What role do rankings play in university reputations?

Reputation is a critical component of a university’s success, and rankings can play a pivotal part in developing and determining that reputation.  

A university’s brand and reputation can attract students to apply, encourage collaborations with industry and higher education partners, raise its visibility in national and international markets and attract various other benefits.  

When examining how rankings impact and inform a university’s reputation and its access to these advantages, it’s important to consider how students view rankings and what they believe this means about an institution’s reputation.  

In the 2020 QS International Student Survey, prospective international students were asked what they think a university’s good ranking indicates about the institution 

Our analysis of survey results reveals that 78% think a good ranking indicates that the institution has high quality teaching staff, 72% think it means that it has a good reputation and 63% believe it means that it has world-leading academics.  

It’s clear that a good ranking reflects well on an institution’s academic reputation for international students. This is understandable given that an institution’s academic reputation score in the annual QS Academic Survey carries a weighting of 40% in the QS World University Rankings. 

To better understand how international students think rankings are calculated, we asked them what measures they think determine a university’s ranking: 

  • 72% chose the graduate employment rate 
  • 69% chose the qualification level of staff members 
  • 64% chose performance on student satisfaction surveys 
  • 49% chose how the university is perceived by employers 
  • 48% chose the number of citations in academic journals 
  • 40% chose the number of international students 
  • 40% chose the staff to student ratio 
  • 38% chose how the university is perceived by others 
  • 33% chose the number of postgraduate students 
  • 23% chose the number of international staff 

Many of these measures are examined by QS analysts when determining a university’s ranking, with differing weightings based on the importance of the measure.  

Therefore, rankings inform reputation and reputation informs rankings. Surveyed students demonstrate that they understand the intricacies of this relationship and the many measures that influence each side.  

To delve further into this topic, QS released two reports that detail how we determine academic reputation and employer reputation, and how these impact rankings. To learn more, please download Academic Reputation Tracking: Your Top 10 Questions Answered and Employer Reputation Tracking: Your Top 10 Questions Answered. 

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