Rankings demystified

16 September 2013

Rankings demystified

Rankings are rather like film or book or holiday reviews - many people disagree with them and we all know they don't tell the full story. But they do influence opinions and decisions, and help shape reputations, so I've been asked to give a quick explanation of how they work.

Rankings are rather like film or book or holiday reviews - many people disagree with them and we all know they don't tell the full story. But they do influence opinions and decisions, and help shape reputations, so I've been asked to give a quick explanation of how they work.

While the publishers (Financial Times, The Economist) do things slightly differently, the principles are largely the same and their success relies on the partnership between schools and their students, or alumni or clients.

The rankings are created from the analysis of two surveys:

1. The participants - replies account for around 50-80% of the results

Surveys are either sent directly by the publisher or via the school. It is the publisher that selects which sets of alumni, students or clients are to be included in each ranking. A minimum number of survey responses are needed for the school to be eligible to participate.

Typical questions are about careers, salaries, aims achieved, the learning experience - a combination of facts and opinions.

So you can see how influential participant responses are!

2. The schools - replies account for around 20-50% of the results

Questions cover subjects such as cohort size and demographics, faculty number and diversity, graduates’ employment, programme information, and school accreditation.

The combined data is then analysed to produce a series of mini rankings of individual measures e.g. Henley is number 1 in the world for student quality (Economist, Full-time MBA). The overall ranking is calculated from these underlying measures which are each weighted according to the importance the publisher assigns to them. Our position depends not only on how 'well' we score, but also on how other schools fare, including brand new entrants.

Whatever our position, the rankings are an annual discussion point, among schools, alumni, employers, prospective students. We celebrate, we complain, we justify. But above all, we learn about how we can improve our offering.

University league tables for our undergraduate programmes follow these same broad principles, though the publishers (Times, Sunday Times, Guardian and Good University Guide) collect their data from the National Students Survey (NSS) and other similar indirect surveys. Executive Education rankings do not involve careers, employment or salary data.

As the rankings analyst for Henley, I urge you to keep an eye out for rankings related emails and please do keep your contact details up to date to ensure you are able to participate. You can do this by clicking here

I hope this brief summary shines a little light on the subject of rankings. Donal McLoughlin, Business Education Rankings Analyst, Henley Business School

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