The study found that the majority of students see an institution’s position in global rankings as important but not necessarily reflecting quality. But, 62% of the 519 respondents said that it’s important for an institution to be internationally known to improve their employment prospects.
“University websites should have banners of their most prominent alumni”
Based on the feedback, QS concluded that a student-created ranking would place a third of weightings on employer reputation and employment rate. Teaching quality and student experience would each have around 20% of weightings followed by research (15%) and cost (8%).
All survey participants were attending QS international education fairs in London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Moscow. QS also held 11 focus groups with a total of 71 students from 19 countries.
Most were in the process of applying for a postgraduate course though undergraduates applicants were represented in the survey and focus groups.
In the focus groups, students explained that their motivation for looking at global rankings was to ensure that their chosen institution would be recognised in whichever country they chose to seek employment.
“Rankings must be the only way an employer can distinguish between two candidates with the same skills and experience,” commented a prospective Master’s student in Moscow.
Another student from the US said: “The name is really the most important, because then you have it on your CV.”
After employment prospects, students said “connections worldwide” was the biggest benefit of attending an internationally recognised university.
When asked which rankings indicators are the most important to students, 58% said teaching quality while half said employer reputation and 47% said employment rate.
Academic reputation and cost were the least chosen factors, listed by just 16% and 24% of respondents.
“Universities often have banners of their most prominent professors; what they should have however is banners of their most prominent alumni,” said a student in Italy.
The study also explored how students use rankings. Most commonly, students use them to make a shortlist, narrowing down their search in the early stages of the decision making process.
A student-created ranking would place a third of weightings on employer reputation and employment rate
Students also said they would consult rankings to check the reputation of a specific university if they hadn’t heard of it before and, similarly, use them to directly compare universities.
Most students said the rankings would only make a difference if the gap between institutions was significant- more than a few places.
The survey also found a strong demand for more ability to compare universities based on particular programs as more than three-quarters (78%) of respondents said they found subject-specific tables more useful than overall rankings.
Interestingly, although they find rankings useful, most students are confused by the differences between the methodologies from one ranking and the next.
“The same university is fourth in one ranking, and very different in another ranking. So I don’t know which one is the right one,” commented a Masters applicant.