Differentiation strategy and rankings in higher education: Role of rankings in building a strategy

Differentiation Strategy and Rankings in Higher Education: Role of Rankings in Building a Strategy, by Magdalena Iordache-Platis. In: Dima A. (eds) Doing Business in Europe (2018). Contributions to Management Science. Springer, Cham

Abstract (emphasis mine)

The contemporary higher education environment is dominated by uncertainty. Institutions do not disappear overnight in this industry, but study programmes decline even dramatically. Presently, ranking methodologies and indicators contribute to different and dynamic positioning of institutions at national or international level, based on a particular approach or a field-based one. Building a proper development strategy is a complex task for academic leadership. The chapter reveals the need of integrating the information provided by rankings into the decisions and actions in higher education institutions to achieve sustainable development. The main objectives of the chapter are to understand the dynamism of the contemporary competitive environment in higher education sector, to clarify the differentiation strategy as a solution for being stable on the educational market, to identify the role of rankings in defining an effective strategy. The topic is relevant for the students, contributing to their knowledge of differentiation strategy in general, but also on its applications in higher education, in particular; they will not only become more aware of the large possibilities of differentiation strategy implementation, but also better decision-makers about educational providers.

International rankings conceptual clarifications

Interesting excerpts:

Therefore, considering all the aforementioned connections between ranking dimensions and institutional missions, the steps to follow to generate the change towards the differentiation should be:

  • determine the higher education option for the ranking dimension
  • assess the current state of the ranking dimension
  • define possible institutional changes
  • predict the competitor’s changes related to the chosen dimension
  • implement the change.

A differentiation strategy is a way of competing in which institutions look for unfitness, through selecting one or several ranking dimensions. Higher education institutions become able to better perform on the market, but only in the case of student awareness or other stakeholder awareness, according to the specific objectives. If the students do not know or do not trust rankings, having a differentiation strategy and investing in it is similar to the case of no differentiation at all. In other words, a differentiation strategy is worth building and developing only if the students, as beneficiaries of it are aware and understand it properly. In this context, communication to the public is most important. Media and institutional press office contribute to the strategy building. If the communication is direct, continuous and clear, the strategy is effective. In case of a lack of communication, the differentiation does not reach the potential public and its impact becomes minor.

Model of ranking-based differentiation strategy for higher education institutions (Source:

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