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Not just an accelerator: Interactions between University Rankers and National Policy Makers in India and Denmark - a story of Policy Change

Comparative Politics
Globalisation
Education
Miguel Antonio Lim
University of Manchester
Miguel Antonio Lim
University of Manchester

Abstract

The paper aims to extend existing arguments about the role of ranking in policy making by showing concretely how rankings are employed in and shape countries’ quests for positioning in the global knowledge economy. Rankings in this sense open up new discussions about policy borrowing and convergence. They require new explorations of their production and history and open up a space for new understandings of the links between particular policy assemblages and wider processes of transformation. Global rankings set into motion policy responses in national higher education systems that both highlight and question our understanding of how policies move within and between national and international policy communities. This article investigates how rankings are employed in national policy processes and effect shifts in policy aims and in the power balance between policy actors. We suggest that a thorough interrogation of the ranking itself is needed, if we are to fully understand the effects of ranking in transforming university systems. We need to understand, concretely, how rankers interact with national policy makers. We suggest that rankings, although acknowledged in existing studies as an accelerator of reform processes and global policy convergence, are not explored sufficiently as strategic organizations in their own right consisting of a diverse set of actors and practices drawn into and active in national and regional contexts. The role of ranking cannot easily be generalized and must be understood as negotiations between the ranking business and national policy situations, which sometimes offset existing logics and practices in both the ranking business and the policy community. Rankings do not just accelerate existing national policy directions - they can change the policy discussions themselves. The article draws on two multi-year field studies of India and Denmark to investigate how national policy processes and developments within the ranking business interact in often surprising ways. In both India and Denmark, rankings are operationalized by and influence policy actors in ways contingent on (1) national political dynamics, on (2) developments within the ranking industry, and (3) on the particular ‘policy mix’ they are brought to articulate with. In some cases rankings may even be repelled by national contexts and forced to change to make their presence relevant. Rankings enter policy processes in diverse ways. In Denmark, rankings were integrated into both policy targets when a change in ranking methodology forced a new conceptualization of aims for the higher education sector. In India, the consistently low ranking of the elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have brought into question current policies to develop and expand the IIT-system to ‘catch up’ in the global knowledge economy, by relating the status of Indian the individual IITs to government agendas to establish World Class Universities. In neither case was the incorporation of rankings into national strategies straightforward or directly according what national policy makers had originally expected.