Sunday 31 May 2015

A parallel system of ranking universities on research and quality of teaching should be introduced for fairer assessments according to David Willetts, the UK’s former Minister of Universities and Science.

David Willetts suggested the current world university rankings system focuses more on universities’ research credentials at the expense of institutions of higher learning with very good teaching methods. 

“The increasingly global nature of higher education has meant more attention on world university rankings. We know that prior attainment and research excellence are important in the rankings at the moment and the quality of the student experience or teaching do not feature highly.  That’s probably because we haven’t yet got good enough metrics.” Willetts claimed that the weighting of rankings towards research is raising concerns internationally. 

David Willetts made the comments in an exclusive interview with the British Council ahead of the organization’s annual Going Global conference for leaders of international higher education which starts June 1 in London. The conference brings together more than 1,200 leaders from over 70 countries, and is “probably the world’s leading gathering of higher education ministers” according to Willetts.

 He said parallel rankings on teaching and research were needed in comparing institution as his experience as a UK minister had shown there were English universities which were not as prestigious as those ranked highly due to their research credentials, yet had very good teaching methods.

“Getting teaching assessments that are internationally comparable will be a challenge over the next few years. As a minister I was very aware that when overseas ministers were thinking about where to spend their precious scholarship money on sending students abroad they chose universities that were high in the rankings and they were high in the rankings because of their research.  I used to tell them that in England we have universities which are not as prestigious in terms of research but that have very good teaching and their students would gain much from them. Perhaps we need parallel rankings on teaching and research” Willetts said.

David Willetts will be speaking on Tuesday 2 June at the Going Global conference in a session that explores different methods for funding higher education. He reiterated that the funding reforms he was responsible for as the UK’s Minister for HE and Science from 2010 – 2014 had put students in the “driving seat” as consumers, and were the best way of financing higher education when government budgets were being squeezed. Willetts also claimed that the UK’s policy had received praise from Ministers overseas, even if they were unable to introduce it in their own countries.

“I believe that our graduate repayment scheme is the best way of financing higher education when public money is tight. The OECD has judged it to be the most sustainable model in Europe. Of course, different countries will have their own decisions to take, but in my years as a Minister a lot of overseas Ministers told me that they knew they should move in the same direction but politically it was very difficult. They worried about getting it through.” Willetts said.


Notes to Editor

David Willettswas the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science from 2010 to 2014 and the Shadow minister for Universities and Skills from 2007-2010. His many roles have included Paymaster General and Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary. He stepped down as the Conservative MP for Havant before May’s general election.

A visiting professor at King’s College, London he is now the Executive Chairman of the Resolution Foundation, a member of the council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the chair of the Higher Education Advisory Board advising TES Global. 

For More Information about Going Global please contact Tim Sowula 07771 718 135



About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes. 

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides less than 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organizations.

All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

07771 718 135 or please visit: You can also keep in touch with the British Council through and