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Smashing the glasshouse. Diminishing the prestige of measures of higher education

Andrea Saltelli, Alexandra Theben, Rosario Scandurra (2022)

SocArXiv Papers

Abstract. According to many authors the ranking of institutes and universities of higher education (HE) has provoked dramatic consequences in terms of transforming these institutions into a global market, sending the university prices skyrocketing and generally modifying the landscape of HE. While these measures, developed worldwide by several actors, abound in terms of measures of excellence, and in subjective indicators of prestige, none of them include as one of the criteria the price to the students of attending their courses and campuses. Substantial doubts have also been raised about the methodologies adopted by developers. If costs were included the panorama of HE in terms of desirability for students and their family would change considerably. In the present work we test this idea with a sample of universities for which data are available. We also poll the existing literature to gauge what the scholars thinks of HE rankings in terms of risks versus desirability. Finally, we use these elements to build a case against rankings of HEIs, including various strands of scholarship, including from sociology of quantification.

Extract: “Indeed, the toolbox of statactivists offers a rich repertoire of strategies that could be deployed in an effort to reduce the impact of HE rankings. For example, showing the true cost of different HE institutions goes in the direction of the example just mentioned of exposing the true costs of expulsions policies. As shown by Desrosières (2014), statistics can be a tool of liberation or oppression, and this is very well described, for the concrete case of employment statistics, by Salais (2022): those statistical concept laboriously put together between the end to the XIX century and the seventies to give concrete meaning to the concept of employment have been radically altered by the new public management policies, aimed at maximizing the rate of employment, but where employment has become of a very intermittent and precarious nature. Both when entering the labour market, and when entering a university, the panorama offered to newcomers is that of a new world, one that does not correspond to old and familiar concepts.” (p. 13)

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