John O'Leary, a member of the QS academic advisory board, explains what the new QS Stars university rating system is all about.
Rankings continue to capture the headlines, but many universities have become increasingly interested in a form of assessment that judges them solely on their own qualities, rather than in relation to other institutions.
Two busy sessions at last week’s NAFSA conference, in Vancouver, testified to growing demand for QS Stars. Universities in a dozen countries, including Australia, the UK and the United States, have chosen to be rated on their facilities, innovation and local engagement, as well as their teaching and research.
More than 70 universities have applied for QS Stars, which provide an overall rating and also highlight areas of excellence in particular aspects of their performance. The system allows for specialisation and uses devices such as student satisfaction surveys that are not part of international rankings. Successful universities are awarded between one and five Stars.
About QS Stars
A typical one-star university may be less than 20 years old and will be providing a good standard of education while building a domestic reputation. Those awarded five stars must be world-class in a broad range of areas, enjoy an excellent reputation and have cutting-edge facilities and internationally renowned research and teaching faculty.
The first universities to be awarded Stars range from the 5-star University of New South Wales, which received its rating certificate last week, to 50-year-old Syiah Kuala University, in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, whose assessment was completed in 2010.
The QS Stars system is designed to allow institutions to shine, irrespective of their size, shape and mission. Stars are awarded based on an audit by the QS Intelligence Unit, with separate ratings published for each of the eight criteria.
The system offers an international standard for comparison for any participating institution and is particularly useful for universities that are focused on raising their international profile.
Benefits of QS Stars
Stars are proving attractive to universities that are yet to make a mark on the world rankings, as well as some that are already well-placed. They recognize strengths that may be overlooked in rankings, for example in community engagement, and have none of the drawbacks associated with rankings for universities that teach and research in languages other than English.
Almost 30 criteria contribute towards the maximum 1,000 points awarded in the assessment of QS Stars.
They are grouped into eight categories: research, employability, teaching, infrastructure, internationalisation, innovation, engagement and the institution’s standing in specialist subjects. This can be demonstrated either through QS ranking positions or through internationally recognized accreditation.
Ben Sowter, who heads the QS Intelligence Unit, which is responsible for the Stars system, said: “A star rating assesses institutional performance in greater detail than can feasibly be accommodated in ranking results.
"It can encourage users and readers to understand that ranking results ought to be analyzed and contextualized rather than simply taken at face value. It can also provide additional important information that may be used by prospective students during the earliest stages of the decision-making process for university applications.”
Assessments often lead to improvements in data collection across the institution, such are the demands of the audit process. Many of the universities assessed to date have used the process to inform their strategic and operational planning.