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Discourses on quality and quality assurance in higher education from the perspective of global university rankings

Maruša Hauptman Komotar (Alma Mater Europaea – Faculty of Humanities, Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 4 February 2020

Issue publication date: 4 February 2020




This paper aims to investigate how global university rankings interact with quality and quality assurance in higher education along the two lines of investigation, that is, from the perspective of their relationship with the concept of quality (assurance) and the development of quality assurance policies in higher education, with particular emphasis on accreditation as the prevalent quality assurance approach.


The paper firstly conceptualises quality and quality assurance in higher education and critically examines the methodological construction of the four selected world university rankings and their references to “quality”. On this basis, it answers the two “how” questions: How is the concept of quality (assurance) in higher education perceived by world university rankings and how do they interact with quality assurance and accreditation policies in higher education? Answers are provided through the analysis of different documentary sources, such as academic literature, glossaries, international studies, institutional strategies and other documents, with particular focus on official websites of international ranking systems and individual higher education institutions, media announcements, and so on.


The paper argues that given their quantitative orientation, it is quite problematic to perceive world university rankings as a means of assessing or assuring the institutional quality. Like (international) accreditations, they may foster vertical differentiation of higher education systems and institutions. Because of their predominant accountability purpose, they cannot encourage improvements in the quality of higher education institutions.

Practical implications

Research results are beneficial to different higher education stakeholders (e.g. policymakers, institutional leadership, academics and students), as they offer them a comprehensive view on rankings’ ability to assess, assure or improve the quality in higher education.


The existing research focuses principally either on interactions of global university rankings with the concept of quality or with processes of quality assurance in higher education. The comprehensive and detailed analysis of their relationship with both concepts thus adds value to the prevailing scholarly debates.



Hauptman Komotar, M. (2020), "Discourses on quality and quality assurance in higher education from the perspective of global university rankings", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 78-88.



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