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Constructing a ranking of higher education institutions based on equity: is it possible or desirable?


This paper presents findings from a research project which aimed to rank Australian higher education institutions on their ‘equity performance’; that is, the extent to which they were accessible for, supportive of and benefiting students traditionally under-represented in higher education. The study comprised a conceptual consideration of how higher education equity might be defined and empirically measured, drawing on extant scholarly research as well as observations from key stakeholders, including equity practitioners, researchers, policymakers and higher education executives and institutional planners. Based on these findings, a theoretical framework for higher education equity performance was constructed, and performance indicators identified and subjected to systematic assessment for real-world application. The ensuing ranking system was populated with institutional data from the 37 public universities in Australia. The findings from this analysis indicate that a ranking system may not be the optimal method for assessing higher education equity performance and highlights the subjective nature of both higher education equity and higher education ranking systems.

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Funding for the research underpinning this paper was provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

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Correspondence to Tim Pitman.

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Pitman, T., Edwards, D., Zhang, L. et al. Constructing a ranking of higher education institutions based on equity: is it possible or desirable?. High Educ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00487-0

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  • University ranking
  • Higher education equity
  • Comparative
  • Performance measurement