Global University Rankings, Transnational Policy Discourse and Higher Education in Europe
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Global university rankings have portrayed European higher education institutions in varying lights, leading to intense reflection on the figures on the EU and national levels alike. The rankings have helped to construct a policy problem of ‘European higher education’, framing higher education as an element of competitiveness in a global economy. This has also allowed the European Commission to become a key policy actor in higher education that was not traditionally within its mandate. The global university rankings can be seen as a transnational policy discourse that has different variants at a national level, owing to the historical narratives and public values of each state. But the policy prescriptions of the rankings are taking surprisingly similar forms in different countries and have informed reform agendas throughout Europe. At a general level, the rankings are contributing to a convergence in higher education policies in Europe. This also has negative effects and unintended consequences as the rankings are driving for stratification, homogenisation and commodification of European higher education. But the actual effects of the rankings are mostly indirect and contextual. Hence, the European countries are unequally affected by the rankings, owing to their institutional traditions, size and position in a centre-periphery axis.