Rankings – What Do The Students Think?

We were celebrating the 10-year anniversary of QS World University Rankings® last September, marking 10 editions of one of the most sought-after rankings in the world. Who’s interested? Academics, university leadership, media organisations, governments – and, of course, students.

Whilst it may be evident that rankings are growing in popularity and influence (QS is certainly not the only organisation to produce rankings either) and although we know millions of students consult the rankings every year, it is unclear how they use them and just what the impact is. Given the primary audience we compile our rankings for is prospective international students, we set off on a research project to answer these questions.

This new report initiated by the QS Intelligence Unit, unambiguously titled ‘How Do Students Use Rankings?’, explores student motivations when selecting a university, with a view to better understanding the role rankings play in the journey from being a perspective student to becoming a graduate.

How important is the rank of an institution compared with other factors such as course specification, location and student experience?
• Why study abroad and in an internationally recognised institution?
• How are you choosing what and where to study?

These are some of the questions we asked the students we met at QS international education fairs. The trends presented in the report are primarily based on a series of 11 focus groups held in London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Moscow, involving a total of 71 prospective students. We additionally ran a survey, collecting 519 responses, which allowed us to provide a balanced perspective based on a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.

Our findings were enlightening, yet completely in line with what one would expect to be on a prospective student’s mind. Whilst students shared a variety of ways in which they use the rankings and a wide range of priorities, when we pushed for the ‘absolute’ driving motivation, they overwhelmingly gave the same answer…

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QS World University Rankings 2013/14

Results are out: QS World University Rankings 2013/14

The tenth edition of the QS World University Rankings confirms the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the global leader in higher education. But perhaps more importantly, the data published this week demonstrate the global appetite for the exercise and its maturity.

More academics and employers than ever have participated in the polling that is at the heart of the new rankings. And the results are the most stable since the first rankings were published in 2005.

Both characteristics take on extra importance because students are continuing to gravitate towards the universities at the top of the rankings. This year’s top 100 have almost 9 per cent more international students than last year. Even in an era of continuing rapid growth in higher education around the world, increases on such a scale suggest that students are placing a premium on quality and universities are happy to respond.

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Surviving The MOOC Frenzy

Don’t panic just yet. Despite everything you have heard about Massive Open Online Courses, your university will probably survive the current MOOC frenzy.

A meeting earlier this month at the University of London drew a lively audience of about 150 people to debate the MOOC phenomenon. Run by the University itself, which has been delivering distance learning since 1858, the UK’s Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, and the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), it heard that universities have several reasons for giving away their precious intellectual property online.

The first, as delegates heard from Bill Lawton of OBHE, is that MOOCs are rapidly starting to make money for universities. This mainly happens when the course is validated for academic credit. The result will probably be a Freemium model, like the one popular in the software industry, in which a cut-down version is free but the full item comes at a cost. There are already plenty of cases of a MOOC forming part of a degree course, and therefore involving payment for exams and marking. For example, the University of Texas MOOC offering, via provider EdX, forms part of its planned $10,000 degree, while there is also academic credit for MOOCs from four German universities via Udacity.

Many MOOCs are offered by big-name US universities that are happy to regard them as taster sessions for their highly-priced courses. However, surveys show that about 80 per cent of people taking them already have a degree, often a higher degree. This suggests that a typical MOOC user might well go on to buy a short course, for interest or for professional development, rather than a full degree.

But from the point of view of the university, the difference between a MOOC and conventional university attendance may well be the data it produces. Because the student’s every keystroke is recorded and analysed, it is possible to track student progress, find out where material is too simple or too complex, and see what sort of learning works best for which student. MOOC providers routinely use keystroke patterns to determine whether students are taking their exams or have brought in a substitute to provide the answers. MOOC entrepreneurs are already selling this data, which universities need to improve their provision.

Edwin Eisendrath of Huron Consulting Group in Chicago told the conference that the ability to analyse student learning as it is happening opens up fascinating possibilities for university management. At the moment, we accept that it is possible to measure research outputs, which are the principal driver of academic promotion. But in future, it might be possible to quantify teaching success, which could also be used in promotion decisions.

Tim Gore, director of global networks and communities at the University of London, told the conference that MOOCs need to be seen in context. Their interactive format suits Generation Y, whose members are more serious about peer approval than about praise from their elders. They have also arrived at a time of growing scepticism over the cost of conventional university study.

In future, MOOCs are also likely to be used as a test-bed for teaching innovation, for example by building in games as a serious teaching tool and by incorporating automated cues for students to complete projects. Diana Laurillard of the University of London’s Institute of Education said that they might well contain tested elements common to a range of subjects rather than being assembled on a craft basis like today’s university courses. But this still suggests that MOOCs are going to become a new form of short course, often with an emphasis on professional development, not a direct rival to full-scale university provision.




university alliance

Open Doors event at the University Alliance

Last week, I attended the ‘Open doors’ event organised by University Alliance. The focus of the event was to discuss the Wilson Review. The discussion surrounded the idea of a ‘business and university’ collaboration.  The age-old saying can’t be any more true,  ‘marriage is a union of two’.

The speakers included Professor Sir Tim Wilson,  Trudy Norris-Grey, Professor Beer, Libby Hackett, Matt Smith and Andrew Battarbee. Some of the key areas covered by Professor Sir Wilson included the following:

–          Student placements

–          A year abroad for student experience

–          Business referral within universities (universities recommending a peer university that offer placement in areas which they themselves don’t)

–          Universities effectively responding to business

–          Start-up fairs at universities

If you feel like these are areas of interest at your university, or that you might improve from such partnerships, you can find more details on the University Alliance home page.

A-level results are out…

For close to 300,000 A-level students, and their parents no doubt, 18th August is a date that will have been circled in red. Yes, results day is upon us, and it looks like for many students the news has been good – although some will have had to wait for longer to find out as the UCAS (University and College Admissions Service) website was temporarily taken down due to a high volume of traffic.

Dominating the headlines, as it has for the past 29 years, is the fact that the overall pass rate has risen, standing this year at a record high of 97.8 per cent. The share of students getting A or A* grades has, however, remained static at 27 per cent. This is something of a turn up for the books, as, until now, this figure has risen every year since 1997. At the very pinnacle, though, there has been a slight increase in students receiving A*s– up 0.1 per cent, from 8.1 to 8.2 per cent.

Though this increase only represents a tiny percentage of students – just over 800 – the figure is important due to the increased prominence of the grade in top universities’ admissions requirements. Last year only University College London, Cambridge, Warwick and Imperial College London demanded an A*. This year Oxford, Bristol, Exeter and Sussex have joined their ranks, and UCL, Warwick and Imperial all increased the number of courses requiring the grade (awarded for a score of over 90 per cent in final year exams), suggesting that perhaps, as universities get to grips with a grade only introduced in September 2008, it will become increasingly necessary for domestic students looking to gain a place at the very best UK universities.

Scottish Standard Grade and Higher results were also released earlier this month. The pass rate for the latter rose to 75.2 per cent – an increase of 0.5 per cent, while the figure for the former remained static at 98.5 per cent.  Read more

Visas, another homework for governments towards international education and Latin America students. Part III.

by Liliana Casallas

Part III. UK System & Fact table

In the UK, the process has also been changing. Students from Latin America are able to apply online for the visa.  Students who wish to pursue their studies in the UK can use the Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS), which is an electronic reference number that is given to applicants as proof that they have been offered a place at an UK institute. According to the British High Commissioner, Rob Fenn, it is one of the changes in order to move toward a consolidation of one system, which integrates an online application, appointment, biometrics within the ‘point based system’ in order  to support the strategy of a centralized decision-making process for each region.

In the case of Latin America, the visa application process has been centralised in New York, where they receive and review applications.

The official time for responses takes between a minimum of 5 to 120 working days but response time depend on the country. Nevertheless, there are records of 90% applications processed in 3 days for Brazil, 5 days for Colombia, 10 days for Mexico and 30 days for Venezuela.

It is too early to state if a offshore centralized decision-making process is favourable for expediting student visas but new tools such as CAS will help with the delays caused by acceptance letters.

Certainly, some countries have an open policy to attract international students and promote higher education, others, are also interested to keep the best fresh minds as part of a strategy to invest in the country.  As seen in table IV, countries such as the US and UK run a policy to allow students to work in a particular sector after studying in the country. Contrary, Spain has a strongly restrictive visa application system and processing for applicants whatever they are a student or not. Additionally, as one can see below, there are no clear standards in terms of requirements, time, policy and approval rates.

  Australia USA Spain UK
Visa process

A1= 14 days

A2 = 21 days

A3= 90 days

Up to 60 days  (excluding visa interview, delivery)

No information

 Up to 120 days


 Visa Fee (1)


$200 (Plus booking appointment cost and $131 application process fee)



Part Time Work

Up to 20 hours per week while your course is in session and unlimited hours during scheduled course breaks.

On-campus employment of 20 hours a week or less.

40 hours for internships upon approval.


Allowed but number of hours not defined.

Up to 20 hours per week while your course is in session and unlimited hours during scheduled course breaks.


Staying beyond the authorized stay


F-1 student – An additional 60 days, to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school.

Students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are entitled to legally work under Optional Practical Training for 29 months


Students are allowed to apply for Tier 1 visa, which allows students who have successfully obtained a degree or postgraduate certificate/diploma in the UK to remain and work for up to 2 years.

Approval rate

2006-07 (93.89%)


           Average 69% Not published

Not published


Table.IV. Visa facts per country

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Visas, another homework for governments towards international education and Latin America students. Part.II

by Liliana Casallas

Part II. USA and Spain System

In the US actions to create a transparent and efficient process are related to make students a priority so that they may travel in time to begin their course of study, having focused on cutting wait time for interviews.  There are also procedures in place to expedite student applicants, even on short notice. From March 2010, the visa programme is moving towards applying through a unique online form (DS-160), replacing three forms previously used.  According to an official source, 90% of applications have wait times of less than 30 days for student and business travellers.

There is no current updated information on rejection rates, however, between 2001 and 2005 the rate of visa rejections was 31%. Table III shows the number of student visas issued, which has been growing proportionally since 2006.  Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are on the top of the list.

Country 2006 2007 2008 2009
Brazil 5,926 7,418 10,556 9,160
Mexico 7,885 7,778 7,538 6,281
Colombia 2,933 3,317 3,961 3,912
Venezuela 1,928 2,244 2,363 2,543
Argentina 1,115 1,061 1,117 1,076
Chile 992 1,108 1,076 1,074
Peru 1,089 1,065 1,101 1,005
Ecuador 1,144 1,067 1,005 960
Panama 613 499 579 547
Cuba 7 18 21 16

Table III. Student Visa (F-1) issued for Latin America

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