While academics and university administrators often criticize rankings, league tables have become important tools for student decision-making, especially in the Chinese sector. Yet, research has not fully explored how students in China have engaged with both global and local rankings, as most studies have focused on one setting or the other. Likewise, researchers have not tested students’ knowledge of rankings, despite the intense focus on these actors by universities. Using a survey of over 900 students from Chinese universities, the author explored how knowledge of rankings varies in different student populations. Through multivariate analysis, it is found that students from elite institutions and those with educated parents were more attuned to university rankings in general. However, when testing students’ knowledge of rankings, elite university students performed better in knowing their domestic ranking, but worse when guessing their global ranking, while associations to parental education disappeared. This study, the first of its kind in terms of testing student knowledge, illustrates that the impact from university rankings are mitigated by local and individual characteristics.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Allen, R. M. (2017). A comparison of China’s “Ivy League” to other peer groupings through global university rankings. Journal of Studies in International Education, 21(5), 395–111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315317697539
Altbach, P. (2015). The dilemmas of ranking. International Higher Education, 42 (Winter), 2–3.
Bai, L. (1998). Monetary reward versus the national ideological agenda: Career choice among Chinese university students. Journal of Moral Education, 27(4), 525–540. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/0305724980270406
Bodycott, P., & Lai, A. (2012). The influence and implications of Chinese culture in the decision to undertake cross-border higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(3), 252–270. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315311418517
Bourdieu, P. (1983). The forms of capital. In J. C. Richards (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.
Bowman, N. A., & Bastedo, M. N. (2009). Getting on the front page: Organizational reputation, status signals, and the impact of US News and World Report on student decisions. Research in Higher Education, 50(5), 415–436. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-009-9129-8
Bradburn, N. M., Sudman, S., & Wansink, B. (2004). Asking questions: The definitive guide to questionnaire design—for market research, political polls, and social and health questionnaires. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cao, C., Zhu, C., & Meng, Q. (2016). A survey of the influencing factors for international academic mobility of Chinese university students. Higher Education Quarterly, 70(2), 200–220. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12084
Chen, L. H. (2007). East-Asian students’ choice of Canadian graduate schools. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 7(4), 271–306. doi: https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.ijea.2150071
Drewes, T., & Michael, C. (2006). How do students choose a university?: An analysis of applications to universities in Ontario, Canada. Research in Higher Education, 47(7), 781–800. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-006-9015-6
Ehrenberg, R. G. (2005). Method or madness? Inside the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings. Journal of College Admission, (189), 29–35.
Gong, X., & Huybers, T. (2015). Chinese students and higher education destinations: Findings from a choice experiment. Australian Journal of Education, 59(2), 196–218. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0004944115584482
Gu, J., Levin, J. S., & Luo, Y. (2018). Reproducing “academic successors” or cultivating “versatile experts”: Influences of doctoral training on career expectations of Chinese PhD students. Higher Education, 76(3), 427–447. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0218-x
Hazelkorn, E. (2015). Rankings and the reshaping of higher education: The battle for world-class excellence. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
He, Z., Zhai, G., Asami, Y., & Tsuchida, S. (2016). Migration intentions and their determinants: Comparison of college students in China and Japan. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 25(1), 62–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0117196815621203
Hou, J., Montgomery, C., & McDowell, L. (2014). Exploring the diverse motivations of transnational higher education in China: Complexities and contradictions. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(3), 300–318. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2014.903028
Li, L. (2004). China’s higher education reform 1998–2003: A summary. Asia Pacific Education Review, 5(1), 14–22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/bf03026275
Liu, D., & Morgan, W. J. (2015). Students’ decision-making about postgraduate education at G University in China: The main factors and the role of family and of teachers. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 25(2), 325–335. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40299-015-0265-y
Liu, N. C., & Liu, L. (2005). University rankings in China. Higher Education in Europe, 30(2), 217–227. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03797720500260082
Liu, Y., Hung, F. S., & Chung, Y. P. (2013). Chinese students’ choice of major when considering higher education abroad: The case of Mainland China. China: An International Journal, 11(1), 94–112. doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/chn.2013.0010
Luo, Y. (2013). Building world-class universities in China. In J. C. Shin & B. M. Kehm (Eds.), Institutionalization of world-class university in global competition (pp. 165–183). Dordrecht: Springer.
Luo, Z. M., Chen, C. L., & Wang, X. (2016). Alumni relations in Chinese HEIs: Case studies of three major universities. Frontiers of Education in China, 11(1), 74–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.3868/s110-005-016-0004-8
Manns, Y., & Swift, J. (2016). Chinese Postgraduate choices when considering a UK business and management programme. Higher Education Quarterly, 70(1), 3–23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12080
Marginson, S. (2014). University rankings and social science. European Journal of Education, 49(1), 45–59. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12061
Marginson, S. (2017). The world-class multiversity: Global commonalities and national characteristics. Frontiers of Education in China, 12(2), 233–260. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11516-017-0018-1
Ngok, K., & Guo, W. (2008). The quest for world class universities in China: Critical reflections. Policy Futures in Education, 6(5), 545–557. doi: https://doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2008.6.5.545
Perraton, H. (2017). Foreign students in the twentieth century: A comparative study of patterns and policies in Britain, France, Russia and the United States. Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 1(2), 161–186. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/23322969.2017.1303788
Pizmony-Levy, O. (2017). Big comparisons, little knowledge: Public engagement with PISA in the United States and Israel. In A. Wiseman & C. Stevens Taylor (Eds.), The impact of the OECD on education worldwide (pp. 125–156). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.
Pizmony-Levy, O., & Doan, P. L. (2016). Ranking Storm Project: TIMSS & PISA 2015. Public Opinion Survey Protocol. Teachers College, Columbia University.
Pizmony-Levy, O., & Green-Saraisky, N. (2016). Who opts out and why? Results from a national survey on opting out of standardized tests. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Research Report. doi: https://doi.org/10.7916/D8K074GW
Rhoads, R. A., Wang, X., Shi, X., & Chang, Y. (2014). China’s rising research universities: A new era of global ambition. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Salmi, J. (2009). The challenge of establishing world-class universities. Washington DC: World Bank.
Sauder, M., & Espeland, W. N. (2009). The discipline of rankings: Tight coupling and organizational change. American sociological review, 74(1), 63–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/000312240907400104
Sheng, X. M. (2014). Parental expectations relating to children’s higher education in urban China: Cultural capital and social class. Journal of Sociology, 50(4), 560–576. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783312467096
Sheng, X. M. (2017). Cultural capital, family background and education: Choosing university subjects in China. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(5), 721–737. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2016.1158638
Song, J. (2017). Creating world-class universities in China: Strategies and impacts at a renowned research university. Higher Education, 75(1), 729–742. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0167-4
Spires, H. A., Green, K. E., & Liang, P. (2017). Chinese parents’ perspectives on international higher education and innovation. In Spires (Ed.), Digital transformation and innovation in Chinese education (pp. 272–287). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Tsang, E. Y. H. (2013). The quest for higher education by the Chinese middle class: Retrenching social mobility?. Higher Education, 66(6), 653–668. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-013-9627-7
Volkwein, J. F., & Grunig, S. D. (2005). Reputation ratings in higher education: Double, double, toil and trouble. In J. Burke, (Ed.), Achieving accountability in higher education: Balancing public, academic, and market demands (pp. 246–274). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wang, H. (2009). University rankings: Status quo, dilemmas, and prospects. Chinese Education & Society, 42(1), 42–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.2753/CED1061-1932420104
Wang, L. (2011). Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31(3), 277–286. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2010.08.002
Waters, J. L. (2005). Transnational family strategies and education in the contemporary Chinese diaspora. Global Networks, 5(4), 359–377. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0374.2005.00124.x
Wen, Y. (2009, May 7). Universities in fee-for-ranking scandal. Global Times. Retrieved from https://doi.org/www.globaltimes.cn/content/429561.shtml
Williams, R. (2015). Heteroskedasticity. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved from https://doi.org/www3.nd.edu/~rwilliam/stats2/125.pdf
Yang, D. T. (2015). The pursuit of the Chinese dream in America: Chinese undergraduate students at American universities. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Yang, R. (2017). The cultural mission of China’s elite universities: Examples from Peking and Tsinghua. Studies in Higher Education, 42(10), 1825–1838. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2017.1376873
Yang, R., Meng, X., & Wen, W. (2018). Pilgrimage to the West: modern transformations of Chinese intellectual formation in social sciences. Higher Education, 1–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0303-9
Brant, R. (1991). Assessing proportionality in the proportional odds model for ordinal logistic regression. Biometrics, 46(4), 1171–1178. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/2532457
Warner, P. (2008). Ordinal logistic regression. Journal of Family planning and Reproductive Health Care, 34(3), 169–170. doi: https://doi.org/10.1783/1783/147118908784734945
About this article
Cite this article
Allen, R.M. What Do Students Know about University Rankings? Testing Familiarity and Knowledge of Global and Domestic University League Tables in China. Front Educ China 14, 59–89 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11516-019-0003-y
- university rankings
- student perspective
- higher education
- league tables