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Questioning the Shanghai Ranking methodology as a tool for the evaluation of universities: an integrative review


This integrative review reports on methodological questions about the Shanghai Ranking as a tool for the evaluation of universities, questions that are extensible to other rankings. The paper presents a list of methodological problems that are the result of both a review of the literature and the authors’ knowledge, with the aim of improving and refining the ranking in line with the Berlin Principles. The second section makes proposals and provides explanatory notes for improving the evaluation of university institutions. A final inference is that any educational changes undertaken based on conclusions drawn from an institution’s ranking position must be considered highly controversial and questionable.

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  1. 1.

    China's concern to internationalize its research and obtain recognition through, for example, the winning of Nobel prizes, has reached the point of obsession. Cao (2004, 2014) talks about the Nobel Prize complex or “Nobelmania” that existed in the absence of Chinese born scientists, with Chinese nationality at the time of the concession, working in a Chinese institution, until in 2015 the scientist Tu Youyou won the Medicine and Physiology prize for her contribution to the treatment of malaria.

    So then, as Huang (2015) illustrates, the Chinese way is still receptive to Western influence and external international ranking systems or organizations, and it has made impressive progress in selecting elite universities.

  2. 2.

    Notwithstanding, Indian researchers (Basu et al. 2016) propose the application of a multidimensional “Quality–Quantity' Composite Index” to rank India’s central universities, and there is a plethora of national ranking systems that seek ideographic contextualization. See Cakur et al. (2015) for a systematic comparison of national and global university ranking systems.

  3. 3.

    The other two rankings (Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking and THE-Times Higher Education World University Ranking) could be criticized, however, for the excessive weight, more than 60%, of the institutional reputation generated by the surveys. This makes them even more questionable.

  4. 4.

    López-Martín et al. (2018) reveal a validity problem of the Spanish U-Ranking (Fundación BBVA-IVIE 2017), which could be associated with a systematic error in predicting performance criteria through features that are not relevant to it.


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Author information

Correspondence to Antonio Fernández-Cano.

Additional information

The integrative review is a methodology that provides a synthesis of knowledge and the applicability of results of significant studies to practice. Bibliographic research and the authors’ personal reflection are needed and rationally combined. Six stages are necessary when preparing a research review: forming the central question, in this case, explicitly about questioning the Shanghai methodology, searching for the relevant literature, data collection, critical examination of the studies included, discussion of results, and writing the report. For reasons of concision, this paper only contains the final stage.

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Fernández-Cano, A., Curiel-Marin, E., Torralbo-Rodríguez, M. et al. Questioning the Shanghai Ranking methodology as a tool for the evaluation of universities: an integrative review. Scientometrics 116, 2069–2083 (2018).

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  • Shanghai Ranking
  • Integrative review
  • Evaluation methodology
  • Universities
  • Berlin Principles