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Behind league tables and ranking systems: A critical perspective of how university quality is measured

Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent (Department of Economy and Business Organization, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain)
D. Enrique Ribeiro-Soriano (Department of Business Administration and IUDESCOOP, Universitat de València Estudi General, Valencia, Spain)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 11 May 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of university ranking systems as instruments of university quality assessment. Some controversy surrounds the methodology used to compile such instruments. Accordingly, different compilers have adopted different methods to produce these rankings. This study examines to what extent this diversity in methodology is now converging in the context of Spanish university rankings.


To conduct this research, a two-step approach was adopted. First, the indicators used in four Spanish rankings were examined. Second, empirical analysis was used to identify differences between university rankings.


Results reveal that, despite the vast number and variety of indicators, there is a positive, significant relationship between rankings. Spanish university rankings thus show some degree of convergence.

Social implications

Because rankings influence behavior and shape institutional decision making, a better understanding of how these assessment tools are devised is essential. Research on these ranking systems therefore offers an important contribution to improving the quality of higher education institutions.


This paper presents the results of a comprehensive survey of Spanish university rankings. It offers a new perspective of the state of the art of the Spanish university ranking system. The paper also presents a set of managerial implications for improving these benchmarking tools.



Berbegal-Mirabent, J. and Ribeiro-Soriano, D.E. (2015), "Behind league tables and ranking systems: A critical perspective of how university quality is measured ", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 242-266.



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