Do institutional rankings really matter?


Dr Veena Aggarwal, Consultant Womens’ Health, CMD and Editor-in-Chief, IJCP Group & Medtalks Trustee, Dr KK’s Heart Care Foundation of India    17 February 2023

Every year, magazines, newspapers publish a list of top ranked educational institutes in the country. While these rankings enlighten us about the best colleges and universities in the country, concerns have been raised about the credibility, integrity, accuracy of the metrics involved.


Figuring in the list of top-ranked institutes comes with a lot of prestige attached. They create a perception of quality, which could be right or wrong. However, these elite institutes are out of reach for a large majority of students.


The rankings usually do not change much. The same institutes figure in the list year after year with only a little variation in their positions. Ranking criteria are not standardized. Different ranking bodies adopt different criteria. Methodologies may differ. So, while one college may rank high in one list, its position may be lower down in another list. 


Rankings encourage colleges lower down in the list to strive to come up. But on the flip side, institutes may focus on meeting the selection criteria to improve or boost their ranking and education, their core purpose, may take a back seat.


Institutional ranking is an insular way of looking at education. What prospective students should look for is whether a particular institute fits their needs, be it academic, social and financial. How close the institute is to their homes is another factor that is often considered. Even if it does not rank in the top 10 or 100, it may be just the right institute for them.


So are institutional rankings really necessary? More pertinently, should they matter? Harvard Medical School does not think so.


In January, Harvard Medical School announced that it would not participate in the “best medical schools” survey and rankings of U.S. News & World Report despite ranking #1 in the 2023 list.1 In the following week, other top medical schools in the US such as Stanford Medical School, Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, followed suit.


Dr George Q. Daley, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Harvard University said, “my concerns and the perspectives I have heard from others are more philosophical than methodological, and rest on the principled belief that rankings cannot meaningfully reflect the high aspirations for educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care that we strive to foster in our medical education programs”.The Wall Street Journal reported the statements of Icahn Dean Dennis Charney and Medical Education Dean David Muller to the school community where they said, “The rankings provide a flawed and misleading assessment of medical schools; lack accuracy, validity, and relevance; and undermine the school’s core commitments to compassionate care, unrivaled education, cutting-edge research, a commitment to antiracism, and outreach to diverse communities.”.2


Ultimately what matters is your proficiency in your subject, your competency, the clinical and procedural skills you acquire over the years, how compassionate you are towards your patients, how effectively you build a healthy doctor-patient relationship and not that you went to School A or School B.




  1. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/hms-withdraws-us-news-world-report-ranking, January 17, 2023. Accessed on Feb. 16, 2023.
  2. https://www.wsj.com/articles/stanford-medical-school-withdraws-from-u-s-news-ranking-expanding-exodus-11674566598, Jan. 24, 2023. Accessed on Feb. 16, 2023.

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