The need for international comparisons is growing. The traveling scholar dates back to the middle ages, but never before have such numbers crossed national boundaries. UNESCO estimates there to be more than 132 million students over three million of whom are studying abroad. More than half of this traveling band goes to four countries: France, Germany the UK and the US which takes by far the largest share despite fluctuations in recent years Australia Canada and Japan are the other big destinations and countries such as china have set their sights on joining them. The QS World University Rankings illustrate why students choose to go to these countries. US universities have consistently occupied more than a third of the top 10, led by UK institutions and Australasia is close behind.
The rankings have shown that excellence in higher education is distributed more widely than many of the wests have presumed. The high standing of Australia universities in Asia for example has helped propel six of tem into the top 50 while 20 different countries are represented in the top 100. Some nations have only one institution in the top 200. But it has become a matter of economic and cultural importance to compete at this level. In Germany, the government has awarded several billion Euros of extra investment to a group of elite institutions to promote their world standing. Concerns have also been expressed on some countries that might be both over exposed to the international market and nearing their capacity in some academic areas. More than a third of postgraduates at UK universities were from overseas while foreign students accounted for 39 per cent of master’s places in Australia and 41 percent of PhDs in Switzerland .This illustrates the international for higher education and also the need for prospective applicants to do their research . Large concentration of foreign students especially of a single nationality can dilute the experience of working and living in another country.
Global rankings of universities are used by students’ employers’ research funds, governments and universities themselves. Although the rankings had been taken to be controversial these have now been recognized by bodies such as the International associations of universities (IAU) as a permanent fixture on the international academic scene. The IAUs journal wrote the strength of the market seems unavoidable and rankings are its most resonant indicator at the moment. Recently the debate has intensified on how rankings should be compiled. Discussions have taken place on every continent and numerous research papers have been published. But few people deny that there is a need for international comparisons of some sort. The world’s leading universities are no longer content to be recognized as pre-eminent in their own country. Higher education has become such a global enterprise that the best institutions are often more interested in comparing themselves with rivals thousands of miles. Even companies and governments mount global searches before placing research contracts, top academics frequently move continents to further their careers and students too are increasingly mobile particularly of postgraduates of postgraduates level. For some students a move abroad may be the only way to find top quality tuition and academic facilities in a particular subject. For others to experience a different culture and a new way of thinking is valuable enough in it.
A world class university
Nevertheless there is still no consensus about the value of university ranking. Everyone wants a world class university. No country feels it can do without one. In all probability there never will be agreement on single method of comparing universities worldwide. In response to the same forces that have propelled the world economy, universities have become more self consciously global seeking students from around the world who represent the entire spectrum of cultures and values, sending their own students abroad to prepare them for global careers, offering courses of study that addresses the challenges of an interconnected world and collaborative research programs to advance science for the benefits of all humanity. Of the forces shaping higher education none is more sweeping than the movement across borders.
However, there are many valuable universities that do not aspire to international status. They may serve their local communities usually with an emphasis on teaching rather than research, or they may be determinedly national Institutions with an eye to knowledge transfer. On the other hand, the universities that participate in rankings tend to judge themselves internationally on the power of their research often as members of the growing number of global higher education networks, and they recruit students and staff from many parts of the world.