At a recent conference in St Petersburg, I heard a passionate plea for universities to invest more in reputation management and specifically in efforts to improve their place in the global rankings like THE, Shanghai and QS. In the talk, there was little attention for – and even less evidence of – the actual impact of such efforts. This needs to be seen in two perspectives:
First: Will spending more money on reputation management indeed lead to a better reputation? We all complain about the weather at times – but does that make it wise to spend money on “improving the weather”? I think an American university once calculated how much it would need to invest in moving up just a few places in the Rankings; I can’t remember or trace how much, but I guess it was millions rather than hundreds of thousands.
The second question is: Will getting a higher place in the Rankings – assuming you manage to do that – have a significant impact on core targets that your university wants to achieve? For students recruitment, the answer obviously will be definite.
However, what is the correlation between Ranking and attracting excellent scholars and teachers? Is there a link between higher rank and more research funds? More Alumni donations? Better employability and earnings for your alumni?
I could find no research on any of these correlations – that would have to be there to warrant investment in reputation management on other grounds than student recruitment. So I think that the default position – to be falsified before it is discarded – is that investment in reputation management is only wise if it can be expected to give a value-for-money in terms of student recruitment.