The Ranking Game on the Russian Battlefield: The Case of the Higher School of Economics
Global university rankings have become an increasingly influential tool for measuring and verifying academic excellence. Today, it is hard to find a country where higher education policy and leading universities totally ignore the issue of global competitiveness and rankings as public measures of academic quality. The persuasiveness of global rankings has challenged national perceptions about higher education development and involved governments and hundreds of universities in the so-called “ranking game” (Hazelkorn, 2014; Kehm, 2014). At the same time, we can observe different reactions by universities whose institutional strategies were imposed by the fact of being ranked. These reactions concern not only changes in external images and institutional strategies, but also internal changes of formal structures and identities (Gioia, Thomas, Clark, & Chittipeddi, 1994; Espeland & Sauder, 2007; Sauder & Espeland, 2009; Colyvas, 2012). Furthermore, the reactions differ not only between universities of high and low ranks (Hazelkorn, 2007), but also between universities embedded in different academic systems. Following Clark (1983) and Maassen (1996), it can be argued that institutional context—which consists of elements related to disciplinary culture, the academic profession, and political culture—determines the different reaction by universities to global rankings.
In this chapter, we present the case of a university that has recently entered the race for global academic excellence. Our analysis addresses two important issues. We demonstrate how an abstract idea of global rankings is translated into practice in a university embedded in a specific institutional context. We also show how coupling between academic and administrative structures is organized under the pressure of global rankings.