International students’ and employers’ use of rankings: a cross-national analysis

Manuel Souto-Otero, Jurgen Enders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)
395 Downloads (Pure)


The article examines, primarily based on large-scale survey data, the functionalist proposition that HE customers, students and employers, demand rankings to be able to adopt informed decisions on where to study and who to recruit respectively. This is contrasted to a Weberian ‘conflict’ perspective on rankings in which positional competition is key. The article concludes that rankings are better understood as instruments in positional competition for a minority of global players. They are a crucial source of information only for particular groups of international students and employers. The empirical analysis further suggests that the state of economic development, cultural aspects and the availability of top-ranked institutions in the home HE system are important factors in explaining differences in the importance of rankings across countries. We conclude by arguing that national governments and HE institutions should re-visit the assumption of a wide-spread importance of rankings for students and employers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-810
Number of pages27
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number4
Early online date27 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2017


  • rankings
  • comparative study
  • data analysis
  • educational policy
  • egalitarianism
  • positional competition


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