Academic Rankings as Isomorphic Forces: How Global Rankings Have Elicited Institutional Changes in Brazilian Public Universities

André Martins, University of São Paulo
Gladys Barreyro, University of São Paulo

Since the emergence of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (2003), global academic rankings have reached substantial popularity in mass media, becoming a topic of discussion among academic leaders and politicians. In Brazil, we have often seen meaningful repercussions when rankings are published: some universities publicly celebrate their good performances, while politicians and newspapers inquire others about their performances. Even though these recurrent reactions illustrate rankings’ relevance to Brazilian universities, it is still unclear how these league tables have impacted university governance in Brazil. This paper seeks to investigate this question by analyzing institutional decision-making regarding filling out ranking forms and surveys in three top-ranked Brazilian universities. We developed a multiple case study with the selected universities, conducting a documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews with their academic leaders. Our results show that universities did not have adequate data structures to send accurate information to ranking agencies when global rankings emerged, which caused some frustration with underrated performances. Hence, universities have attempted to reshape their data gathering structures to accommodate informational demands from global rankings, which led some of them to create Institutional Research (IR) offices. This dynamic is consistent with other studies highlighting how rankings have elicited the development of IR offices worldwide, becoming an isomorphic force in global higher education. In some cases, we observed that IR offices might go beyond filling out rankings surveys and forms, developing other data collection and analysis projects. This ongoing development (and even professionalization) of IR offices suggests that global rankings have been catalysts of broader institutional changes towards data-driven governance in Brazilian universities.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 1. Ranking Evidence, Evidencing Rank