Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Radically Rethinking Rankings: Unrankings Around Social Justice Dimensions


I’ve been in some private conversations recently around university rankings. I’ve had views on this for a long time, feeling like it emphasizes a neoliberal agenda and uses arbitrary measures of quality that are often not really what universities should be measuring and valuing, while also standardizing universal measures that don’t celebrate differences amongst universities and their purposes and audiences.

So I want to propose a radical/critical approach… unranking maybe… and instead looking at institutions and their quality from a social justice lens. Here are some examples, and each institution would be given a level on each of these as: established or emergent. If they’re not doing it, then N/A, and if they’re brilliant at it, there would be a “thought/practice leader” option. And it would ne important for nstitutions to develop on these dimensions OVER TIME. So we know what’s going well, what isn’t, what action they are taking to improve. Compared to themselves. Not mainly to others.

Examples of dimensions (these are just examples, not comprehensive):

Feminist Dimension

  • Are female and LGBTQ faculty paid equally?
  • Percentage of females in upper leadership positions
  • Percentage of female STEM faculty and students and support programs for them
  • Maternity leave and onsite child care policies
  • Harassment policy/practice quality

Community Service Dimension

  • Community-based learning courses and impact on local community
  • Percentage of graduates who work in community service or volunteer in the sector
  • Research outputs that benefit the local community in tangible ways
  • Quality of community service extracurricular activities and their impact

Diversity Dimension

  • Rather than counting numbers of international faculty and students, evaluate quality of support given to help international students feel welcome and succeed
  • The diversity of curricula in terms of readings from minority and international authors and use of culturally relevant and diverse pedagogy
  • Programs to support minority students and students with disabilities and the impact on quality of courses and student experience

Wellbeing Dimension

  • Quality of wellbeing support for students, staff and faculty
  • Reasonable workloads for faculty and students! Reasonable accommodations for people with mental health challenges
  • Career support for diverse students, especially those with less incoming social and cultural capital
  • Inclusivity of extracurricular programs – accessible to diverse students
  • Programs (extracurricular?) in things like art, theater, music, and things like yoga, meditation, etc., and sports programs

Perhaps some of these dimensions are already taken into account, but I don’t think so. From what I have seen and read, most measures are more quantitative and proxies (e.g. % of international faculty, number of citations of publications total, regardless of how useful this research is to the world).

What do you think? Which dimensions would you include and how would you define them?


  1. I would add some kind of learner agency / self-determined learning dimension in regards to the design of course. Can learners choose activities based on individual needs / interests / contexts / etc to show they understand the topics?

  2. Maha, I LOVE this. This is a wonderful framework for re-thinking and re-framing accountability in K-12, too.

    It may not be applicable for higher ed, but for K-12, I would add a “community/family collaboration” criterion under the Community Service Dimension to examine how meaningful the partnership with/inclusion for families is at a site.

    Simply having a dimension devoted to community service would be a step in the right direction, but I think a specific emphasis on how well we work with students’ families would be important in my context. In California, we talk a lot about accountability but I’ve rarely seen us make ourselves truly accountable to our students and their families, who are of course our most important stakeholders. Part of the problem, I think, is that we fail to honor and value our families’ expertise and experience. However positive our intentions may be, educators in California tend to think we know what’s best for young people without needing to consult the students themselves or their families, so I would build the need for genuine, non-hierarchical partnership into the criterion.

  3. This is a great bit of thinking, these dimensions are really important, concisely written. I wd also add an economic justice measure for equity scholarships and one for humanities course fees (diversity of ideas). Which Australia wd currently fail, (price hikes for humanities).

  4. Hi Maha,

    As promised moving ideas from Twitter into here.

    If we’re looking for measures, I’d like:
    1. varied offerings/ flexibility of study options (distance, async, self-paced…)
    2. committee structures that don’t just re-entrench status quo
    3. Evidence of connections with “non-traditional” intellectuals > elders, community leaders
    4. De-emphasis on “university as a place”
    5. Resistance to corporate and neo-liberal forces in all of their forms
    6. $$ for education not buildings
    7. accountability to put education (broadly conceived) first

    MB: could you please put these in comments on my blogpost so I can find them again later? I love the ones you chose, and the Canadian nuance of “elders” there… it should be EXACTLY that nuanced!!! Elders was really striking for me. And countries could learn from one another so like, for example, elders per se are not a thing in Egypt, but the idea of honoring traditional culture and learning from it, building bridges between modern/Westernized knowledge and traditional knowledge (in Egypt this is multiple things) is a beautiful idea!

    TE:Exactly! LOCALIZED and SMALL should be on the list 🙂 Will add a comment to your blog.

    PS: I lie where you’re headed with this!

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