For a certain kind of European, Asian or Latin American institution, the release of the world university rankings each autumn is an exercise in humiliation. Though often long established, and with good local reputations, these schools lack the endowments, research facilities and sheer size needed to compete with U.S. and British powerhouses like Harvard, M.I.T., Cambridge and Stanford.
So when Quacquarelli Symonds, the London-based company behind the QS World University Rankings, announced “a new initiative that gives universities the opportunity to highlight their strength” by paying a fee for the chance to be rated on a scale of one to five stars, the business case was obvious. But so, say critics, was the potential for conflicts of interest. The fees were announced in 2010, though the initiative was not introduced fully until this year.