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Making sense of international league and rankings tables

David Jobbins is a writer and editor specialising in international higher education. He was international editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement from 1992 to 2007 and writes regularly for University World News. He is also a special professor in international education at the University of Nottingham. Below he explains how those considering an education abroad can use international rankings to guide them.

International league tables are fast becoming just as essential a tool for university applicants as national league tables such as the Complete University Guide.

In 2015, a survey by the British Council found that a third of the students polled (some 3,000 students aged 16–30) said they were interested in some form of overseas study.

So it makes sense for these students to look at the international rankings – which they are likely to frequently encounter in the promotional material from institutions on their wish list – alongside other information about the country and university being considered.

But how accurate a picture do they give would-be students and others of the health of a country’s higher education system, and of the institutions that it contains?

Universities that perform well in national rankings frequently barely register in the global league tables.

There are three major international rankings that applicants are likely to come across, all published annually, and all freely available to the user.

If university rankings are too specific, the global higher education network Universitas 21 has developed a ranking of countries’ whole higher education systems.

The Complete University Guide includes the QS and THE world university rankings in its international university profiles.

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