Who Votes in QS Rankings?

People who are not academics are invited to vote. QS says it weeds them out after they do so.

February 19, 2018

QS, one of the companies that does global rankings in higher education, gives more weight (40 percent) to "academic reputation" than to any other factor. To determine academic reputation, QS conducts what it calls "the world's largest survey of academic opinion," with responses from more than 70,000 contributors.

In the past, questions have been raised about how some colleges have recruited people to vote in the QS survey in ways some say makes the survey unreliable.

Inside Higher Ed has learned that it is still possible for universities to nominate people to participate in the academic survey, and that those people get an invitation to participate even if they are not academics.

Individuals who are not affiliated with a university and who do not use an email address with the .edu suffix or another indication that might suggest that they are academics forwarded to Inside Higher Ed a notice from a university that they were being nominated to vote. And shortly after they received that notification (from a university with which they have no affiliation), the official invitation from QS arrived.

"You’re invited to make your opinions heard by taking part in the QS Global Academic Survey 2018. This survey, sent to leading academics based in over 100 countries around the world, will play a fundamental part in the next edition of the QS World University Rankings®, the most widely circulated global university rankings and a tool utilized extensively by students around the world," said the invitation, with a link to the voting system.

Permitting universities to nominate people to vote, the QS approach, differs from the system used by Times Higher Education, which does an invitation-only survey that universities being ranked cannot seek to influence.

Simona Bizzozero, a spokeswoman for QS, said via email that it was possible for universities to nominate nonacademics to receive invitations to join the academic survey. But she said via email that there were no dangers of these votes actually being counted.

"We do some basic vetting and ensure that the lists make visual sense. Most of our screening happens once we get the responses, when we have far more corroborating methods to identify the nature of respondent," she said. "There is a great deal of vetting to insure that the responses used, once received, are genuine academics. At that point we have much more information and can pick out and disqualify responses based on more sophisticated algorithms. We have found that aggressive vetting with the limited data we have before dispatch can often exclude valid academics, particularly in developing countries. We can apply a much finer lens later as we have more information through which to examine fewer records."

Further, she defended the idea of having universities that are being ranked nominate people to vote, and said that this system does not limit the reliability of results.

"A contact provided by Columbia is as likely to also vote, or alternatively vote, for NYU for example," she said. "A larger sample provides a more stratified perspective on the world of higher education."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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