Thomson Reuters, a leading research, analysis, and news organization, recently published the results of a survey of key higher eduction leaders at research institutions around the world. The report, Global Opinion Survey New Outlooks on Institutional Profiles, measured the views of 350 academics from more than 30 countries on the usefulness, methodologies, weaknesses, and data issues with college rankings. The study looked at both global rankings like Shanghai Jiao Tong's Academic Ranking of World Universities and THE-QS World University Rankings and national rankings like U.S.News & World Report's America's Best Colleges.

The report says: Thomson Reuters is in little doubt that league tables (or rankings) matter when it comes to ranking universities and colleges. If well-developed, they can be informative to students and their mentors, and they matter hugely to those who run universities. But league tables (or rankings) can hide as much as they show, because universities are complex organizations and span cultural boundaries and support multiple missions. No single indicator can capture that.

Given how critical college officials both in the United States and around world are of academic rankings, it was encouraging to see that a very high proportion of respondents felt that current rankings were valuable. The Thomson Reuters report said, Respondents generally felt that the current analytic comparison systems had recognizable utility. About 40 percent globally said they were 'extremely to very useful' and a further 45 percent said they were 'somewhat useful.'

The report had some criticisms of the rankings and their methodologies, too:

However, the overriding feeling was that a need existed to use more information, not only on research, but also on broader institutional characteristics. The data indicators and methodology currently utilized were perceived unfavorably by many and there was widespread concern about data quality in North America and Europe. A concern found in the survey, and echoed in discussions with representative groups, was that published ranking tables could have more insidious effects. They changed the behavior, even the strategy, of institutions, not to become more effective, but to perform well against arbitrary ranking criteria. Some would even manipulate their data to move up in the rankings. This is of great concern and warns against any reliance on indicators that could be manipulated without creating a real underlying improvement. Of particular interest was that, across all regions, the same concern was often expressed with about the same degree of frequency. This gave us some confidence in the outcomes but also highlighted a specific concern from Asia: that all the current (global rankings) analyses tend to favor English speaking nations. This is an important reminder that while English remains the international language for academic discourse its pervasiveness may obscure the changing geography of academic activity.

It is clear that rankings have become a global phenomenon and have become the center of many discussions and debates in academia in the United States and around the world. U.S. News strongly believes that our ongoing efforts to work closely with college officials in order to more fully understand higher education is the best way to continue to improve the validity of our rankings.