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Rankings Practices: Understanding the Impact of World University Rankings on Policies and Practices in Dutch Higher Education

Toegevoegd op 25 juli 2019 door Mevr. Tessa Groen

Since the first publications of World University Rankings in 2003, rankings got established as a phenomenon of modern academia. The emergence of funding-based research schemes, the urge for accountability and the globalizing academic market in which universities must compete for resources and students generated an interest in tools to indicate quality and status of higher education. Rankings, in this sense, disperse necessary market information and function as a legitimization for quality, reputation and international outlook. Through the application of quality indicators and data weightings, rankings agencies set the standard for a different notion of quality and excellence. This means that although university rankings claim to evaluate research performance and quality of teaching, they test how responsive to auditing institutions are and how they match with rankings’ performance indicators. However, rankings have contradictory implications, because quality indicators that are criticized such as reputation and international outlook contribute to good rankings’ performances. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how these tensions are negotiated and to what extent university rankings influence higher education policy in the Netherlands. To evaluate this, I investigated practices of data submission, analysis and communication in Dutch academia. Beyond the framework of strategic rankings policies, policy officers fall back on different repertoires to give meaning to their approach to rankings related practices. To analyze these repertoires, I employed an ethnographic approach and conducted interviews with researchers and policy officers from Dutch research institutions. I subsequently contextualized this ethnographic data with data from the government, university websites, newspapers and institutional policy documents. Extending beyond the experiences of policy officers, researchers and students, this research is of interest to policymakers, higher education managers and politicians providing insights into the subject of rankings and the wider implications of rankings’ practices and excellence-driven policies in public research universities in the Netherlands.