LinkedIn: the future of global university rankings?

Much has been debated and researched about the uses and abuses of university rankings. Ellen Hazelkorn, author of Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education, says that: “Rankings serve some good, but they create a lot of perverse incentives.”

Hans de Wit cautions that an increasing number of universities will use rankings to indicate that they are an “international university” without fully defining and understanding the term. Yet, he says, the enterprise of rankings is growing and universities continue with the “reputation war” to attract students.

Higher education is "a professional service characterised by a high level of experience, qualities which makes the purchase risky”. In this context, rankings are perceived by students as a signal of quality to narrow down their choices.

Now, the arena of global university rankings has a new contender, LinkedIn, which has the potential to change the future of the rankings game. Here are the four reasons in support of LinkedIn’s potential.
  • Sharper focus on career outcomes

    LinkedIn is focused on career outcomes. One of the biggest limitations of the rankings is that they focus on students as consumers of information, while their methodologies focus on proxies like research citations. An alternative approach is to use metrics that directly impact students.

    In a cost-conscious environment where the value of higher education is under increasing scrutiny, return on investment and career outcome is becoming more important for students.

  • Deeper view at programme level

    The multi-disciplinary and comprehensive nature of universities is better captured by programme rankings than by university rankings. Programme-level rankings are not only more informative for students, but also attempt to overcome the halo effect of university brands.

    LinkedIn provides an opportunity to break the data down by programmes and customise it to additional issues like location. For example, the number one programme for undergraduate accounting in the US, according to LinkedIn, is Villanova University, not a usual suspect.

  • Wider global reach

    The growing global user-base of LinkedIn provides it with a solid platform to deliver rankings that are truly global in its reach.

    Sixty-eight per cent of the 347 million LinkedIn users are based outside of the United States. Currently, LinkedIn rankings are limited to US, UK and Canadian institutions and cover only select fields of studies. However, the growing number of international users supported by entry into new markets like China is going to help LinkedIn gain wider reach and credibility for global rankings.

  • Richer insights over time

    Ranking providers conduct annual exercises of collecting data and releasing ‘new’ versions. However, there is hardly any year on year difference in institutions nor any noticeable difference from students’ perspectives. The methodologies and underlying data do not allow for exploring long-term results.

    In contrast, LinkedIn data is based on students’ career trajectory and provides the potential to analyse and rank according to the long-term impact of education investment. It even customises rankings from different angles, including location of work.
A better ranking?

Like any other ranking system, LinkedIn’s methodology is imperfect and has several limitations. For example, the career outcomes used in the rankings are confounded by several other variables beyond the institutions of graduation. Philosophically, they may also lead to a parochial view of educational experiences by reducing them to career outcomes alone.

Despite these limitations, though, LinkedIn rankings will evolve over time and have the potential to be a game changer by helping students make informed choices, by creating more competition for existing rankings and even by potentially incentivising universities to move from research citations to career outcomes.

Dr Rahul Choudaha is the co-founder and CEO a tDrEducation and He researches, speaks, writes, and consults on international student trends and its implications for institutional strategies and student success. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver. He is reachable at and @DrEducationBlog.