20 ways to improve your university ranking

This week, THE reproduced an article from 3 years ago on how to improve university rankings. The article is mainly aimed at research universities who want to go up in the various world rankings, but since I do quite a bit of work on our analysis of and approach to interpretation of UK league tables, I thought it would be interesting to have look at the various suggestions.

Many of them are around leadership and management, and maybe don’t apply in exactly the same way in a teaching-led institution. However, the way in which we choose to run a university will have an implication on the insitution’s outputs, as we need to create environments that allow staff and students to thrive.

1. To change a university, you need to change people’s incentives

2. To attract the best faculty, you need the best leaders

3. Control quality through hiring panels

4. Hire the best

5. Know the talent list and congratulate people

6. No pain, no gain

7. Too much change, no gain

8. Pay a top salary if you want the right department head

9. Incentivise raising research money

10. Cut the red tape and reduce the number of committees

11. As a leader, be accessible

12. Clarify the relationship between administrative and academic staff

13. Start to train scholars in management when they are young

14. Pick your board or council members because – and only because – they are good for the university, and then educate them

15. Tell Government ‘No!’

16. Give staff food for their tummies as well as thought

17. Hire a scholar as leader

18. Make sure the leader stays at least five years – and preferably more

19. Give the leader plenty of power (or don’t bother hiring one)

20. Let the leader pick his or her own top team


It’s interesting to read the detail behind each of these headlines, and see how many we could tick. I’ve done it, and I’m not going to write my answer here.

However I am very mindful of 6 and 7. If we carry on as we have before we will not see an improvement in our performance and the reflected outcome in league tables. So some changes are needed, but the challenge is it make sure that we focus on the right changes, and don’t drown in a sea of initiatives. We need to communicate change in a way that everyone knows what the rationale is, that everything is being driven to improve individual attainment and institutional success.

Considering factor 16 though, I can confidently say that the coffee and muffin selections have improved massively over the years.

A long discussion about change at a recent Heads of School/Associate Deans meeting focused on how sticky or carroty we needed to be….