World University Rankings: Reflections on Teaching and Learning as the Cinderella function in the South African Higher Education System

Raazia Moosa


Within universities, a tension exists between research and teaching and learning, where research is often accorded a higher status creating a Cinderella effect by rendering teaching and learning of lesser importance. World university rankings, also referred to as global rankings, are contentious although they have become a permanent feature of the higher education (HE) system internationally (Rauhvargers 2013; Swail 2011; Altbach et al. 2009; Marginson 2007b). Lindsay (2013) argues that institutions have emphasized the importance of publications and prestige, which contribute to national and institutional reputation. Publications increase rankings thereby contributing to the lower prestige given to excellent teachers as compared to excellent researchers. This has consequently led to a decline in the attention given to teaching. Pressure exists in the HE system to play the ranking game without acknowledging that there are expertise and pockets of teaching excellence in universities. Through their performance criteria, global rankings are transforming universities into becoming similar and conforming to a single hierarchy (Marginson 2007a). In order to compete in the global HE market and improve their rankings, some universities have adopted a business model to mitigate the effects of globalisation and have begun to view themselves and higher education as a business. Global ranking systems thus have the agency either to perpetuate teaching and learning as the Cinderella function in HE, through the ranking game or to holistically focus their performance criteria on all the core functions of universities. Ethical policy decision-making in higher is thus essential.

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