Succeeding in the Global Academic Ranking Challenge
: strategy and practice at the university level

  • Diane Gibson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


This thesis explores the potential for upward movement in international rankings by individual institutions, in the context of the Australian higher education sector. It addresses three inter-related but distinct questions. The first explores the ability of ‘underdog’ universities to move up the global rankings, the second examines strategies by which such upward movement might be accomplished, and the third considers the consequences of such an achievement. It ranges across literature on the higher education system and global rankings, on successful, world-class and entrepreneurial universities, and on organisational change. A mixed methods design was employed. It comprised an international comparative analysis of rankings achievements at the institutional and national levels, in combination with an organisational case study incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data, using document analysis and unstructured interviewing techniques. The comparative analysis demonstrated that Australia has done well in its global rankings performance. Several possible explanations are proposed, including the nature of the Australian university system, and the interplay of national and international trends in higher education. The seven-year case study yields the story of a dramatic turnaround at an Australian University from a state of decline to the achievement of a ‘top 100 universities under 50 years of age’ rankings goal. It analyses the University’s success from the perspective of senior management, exploring the successes, the failures, and the costs and the benefits for the organisation. The contributions of the study include a model of trend analysis that tracks individual institutions in their national context and an explanation of the improving performance of Australian institutions. The study also demonstrates the value of exploring the internal context of the university as an organisation, employing a longitudinal approach, and mobilising aspects of the organisational change literature to generate a rich picture of the organisational consequences of ‘playing the rankings game’.
Date of Award30 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJurgen Enders (Supervisor) & Ian Jamieson (Supervisor)


  • global rankings

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