Analysis of methodological approaches to assessing the competitiveness of universities

UDC 378.4
Publication date: 28.05.2024
International Journal of Professional Science №5-1-2024

Analysis of methodological approaches to assessing the competitiveness of universities

Ponomareva Nataliya
Karpovich Victor
1. Cand. of Ec. Sc., Associate Professor, Department Chair,
Belarusian National University of Techology
2. Cand. of Ec. Sc., Associate Professor, Associate Dean
Belarusian National University of Techology
Abstract: Assessing a university's competitiveness provides a holistic view of the strength of its market power over a given period relative to competing universities. In this article, the authors analyze the essence of various methodological approaches to assessing the competitiveness of universities and the development of public assessment of their activities through global university rankings. When assessing a university's competitiveness, it is recommended to consider the competitiveness of its graduates in the labor market.
Keywords: university competitiveness, educational services, methodology, criterion, assessment, rating, demand for graduates.

The transformation of the international market for educational services, driven by the active penetration of information and communication technologies into the educational process and compounded by restrictions caused by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has radically changed the conditions under which the higher education system operates. Universities are facing challenges in maintaining financial sustainability and the need to introduce adaptive learning technologies, as well as developing and implementing strategies to increase their competitiveness and the services they provide in the context of the digital economy’s development.

The development of a strategy for increasing a university’s competitiveness is based on the results of a comprehensive analysis of the university’s market position. The purpose of such an analysis is to identify strategic directions for the university’s development, ensuring its sustainable operation in an unfavorable external environment. The priority areas of the university’s activities include the process of teaching students and undergraduates, research activities, and the reproduction of teaching staff. Like any business entity, universities, in addition to their main activities, widely use various marketing tools and technologies to promote their services, which should be taken into account when developing a strategy.

  1. Materials and methods.

It should be noted that today there is no single approach to defining the concept of “university competitiveness.” Based on the research of R.A. Fatkhutdinova [1, p. 102], E.A. Guz proposes considering the competitiveness of a university dynamically, that is, its ability to train specialists who can withstand competition in the labor market, develop and implement innovations in the educational sphere and in production, and contribute to the implementation of state reproduction policy in science, education, and the economy as a whole in an unstable external environment [2, p. 62].

The competitiveness of a university is a complex indicator. However, the determining criterion is the competitiveness of educational services. Given the specifics of the provision and consumption of educational services, it is necessary to indicate the presence of factors that increase the subjectivity of such an assessment. First of all, this includes the asymmetry of information about the quality of the service, its ability to ensure the achievement of set goals, and the presence of a time lag due to the duration of education and the student’s ability to perceive, assimilate, and practically use the acquired knowledge and skills. Additionally, distortions may be caused by differences in the environment for obtaining and applying skills and knowledge, the level of socio-economic and innovative development of regions, and the social and public status of the respondent. At the same time, when assessing the competitiveness of a university, one cannot ignore criteria such as the quality of the services provided and their compliance with established state standards and consumer expectations, image and business reputation, the cost of educational services for the consumer, the system of benefits and preferences provided, the level of material and technical support for the educational and scientific process, and the presence and development of cultural and community facilities, dormitories, etc.

In modern conditions, as I.V. Zakharova points out in her studies, ensuring the competitiveness of a university involves not only compliance of the educational services provided with the needs of consumers in terms of quality and price, and satisfying the need for personnel in the domestic economy, but also increasing positions in national and international rankings [3, p. 174].

Defining the concept of international competitiveness of a university, one cannot but agree with the position of the team of authors under the leadership of Doctor of Economic Sciences V.V. Bondarenko, who asserts that in the global digital space, it is the ability of an educational organization to develop and implement internationally competitive innovative solutions in the field of education using digital technologies and adapting to continuous changes in the environment of educational services on the global market [4, p. 24].

Thus, assessing the competitiveness of a university provides a holistic picture of its market strength over a certain period relative to competing universities in terms of the quality of educational services provided, the ability to successfully implement existing and introduce new innovative educational programs, use modern information and communication technologies, and respond in a timely manner to changing external conditions [5, p. 156].

To assess the competitiveness of organizations in the manufacturing and service sectors, many different methods have been developed and used. In the educational sphere, the most significant contributions to the development of methodological approaches for assessing the competitiveness of universities were made by E.V. Belousova, I.I. Savchenko, Z.M. Rybalkina, E.V. Chepukhalina, and E.V. Zhalybina. However, the question of methodological support for quantitative assessment of the competitiveness of universities still remains open.

This situation is explained by the following reasons:

– In almost all countries, higher education is under state control to some degree, and the state is responsible to society for the quality of the organization of the educational process in higher education.

– Each university is unique in its traditions in organizing teaching and research, as well as in building a system of internal self-control and management.

– Competitiveness assessments are carried out in-house using individually developed methods, and the data obtained is used for the university’s own needs.

When assessing the competitiveness of educational institutions, methods aimed at identifying and assessing the capabilities of competitors through special expert research and indirect calculations based on open data have become widespread. Also, in practice, the “reflection method” is actively used to analyze competitors, which makes it possible to obtain the necessary information about the university of interest from students or employers. Analytical methods for assessing the competitiveness of universities are used to construct rankings and to calculate market share.

At the same time, Z.M. Rybalkina, when assessing the competitiveness of universities, proposes analyzing according to three groups of parameters: economic, qualitative, and external formation indicators, which are divided into subgroups [6]. Economic parameters include the cost of educational programs, the system of discounts used for payment, tax benefits, payment terms, and price stability. Quality indicators are divided into two groups. The first includes regulatory and legal requirements, compliance with which allows the university to carry out educational activities. The second group accumulates quality parameters based on surveys of applicants and employers. The external formation parameters are unstable. Their impact on competitiveness can be short-term or long-term. This indicates that the competitiveness indicator is characterized by instability, that is, while the quality of the educational programs offered by the university is constant, it can vary widely, responding to changes in market conditions, competitors’ actions, competing educational programs, price fluctuations, etc.

When assessing competitiveness, it is necessary to distinguish between the indicators of a university’s competitiveness and the competitiveness of the educational programs it implements. This is because a university implements several educational programs and may concentrate the best resources (highly qualified teaching staff, teaching in a foreign language, combining the best teaching methods from domestic and foreign practice, conducting classes in high-tech multimedia computer classrooms or laboratories with the latest equipment) to improve the quality of services provided in one area while directing minimal resources necessary only to maintain the program in another. Therefore, a clear distinction between the subject, object, and subject of analysis allows for a more accurate formulation of the criteria for a quantitative assessment of competitiveness.

E.V. Belousova and I.I. Savchenko note that to reliably assess the competitiveness of a university, the main emphasis must be placed on determining the criteria by which applicants choose a specialty and university. To do this, the authors recommend using a methodology based on factor analysis to identify the most significant factors of a university’s competitiveness and the services it provides, as well as to establish their weighting coefficients [7, p. 13]. Conducting a comprehensive assessment of a university’s competitiveness involves developing an integral indicator, which, based on an assessment of the competitiveness of individual educational and other services, provides a complete description of the object of study.

I.V. Klimentyeva, S.L. Loginova and M.M. Mikushina propose the following set of criteria for creating a model of university competitiveness: 1. Quality of education. 2. Employer reputation. 3. Academic reputation. 4. Scientific activity. 5. Logistics support. 6. International activities [8]. In this case, all criteria are assessed using the expert method.

A.E. Vorobiev and G.K. Tashkulova see the integration of educational, research, and entrepreneurial activities as the basis for the competitiveness and strategic development of a university [9, p. 31].

In the 21st century, the global university system has entered a new phase of its development. This is due to educational institutions beginning to receive public assessments of their activities in global university rankings, designed to inform the public about the best universities in the world.

Currently, we can talk about a developing “ratings fever.” In many countries, active work is underway to compile national university rankings, but the greatest interest among interested parties is generated by international rankings that determine the reputation of a university globally. However, identifying the best world-class university remains problematic since they all operate in different countries with varying levels of economic development and culture.

The practice of identifying the most competitive universities through ranking assessments began to be used by foreign countries in the 1980s. Currently, not only the media but also special laboratories compile rankings of higher educational institutions. The European Center for Higher Education (UNESCO-CEPES, Bucharest) and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP, Washington) accumulate, analyze, and systematize various rankings used to identify the most competitive universities. Among the main types of university rankings are:

  1. Rankings that rank higher education institutions according to the value of the final grade. Within this framework, each university is awarded a final score, determined by summing up the main indicators, considering weighting coefficients. This approach is the most common.
  2. Rankings that evaluate the training programs used in universities. Both basic education programs and doctoral programs, additional professional education, etc., are evaluated.
  3. Combined rankings include traits of the first and second types.

All rankings can be divided into the following categories:

– Rankings that arrange universities into a certain “ladder” of serial numbers. Accordingly, the most competitive universities occupy the highest levels.

– Rankings that group universities according to three criteria: the best universities, average universities, and the worst universities [10, p. 3218].

Well-known foreign rankings include:

 – Times Higher Education (UK);

– QS World University Rankings (UK);

– Academic Ranking of World Universities (China);

– U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities Ranking (USA);

– SCImago Institutions Rankings (Spain);

– Webometrics Ranking of World Universities (Spain);

– Center for World University Rankings (UAE), etc.

There are more than 20 global university rankings in total. The results of assessing the competitiveness of universities are provided to interested parties through the media and are publicly available on the Internet. The main users of information on the results of assessing the competitiveness of universities are national education authorities.

  1. Results and Discussio

According to the authors, when assessing the competitiveness of a university, it is important to assess the competitiveness of the graduates in the labor market. The indicators “university competitiveness” and “competitiveness of graduates” are interrelated [10, p. 3228]. As the main criteria for the competitiveness of a university, we can generally propose two evaluation categories: “the value of the graduates (or services)” and “the value of the university in the country’s economic system.”

The specificity of educational services is that their competitiveness can be assessed from the perspective of three subjects: applicants, employers, and the state.

The assessment of the competitiveness of universities from the perspective of domestic applicants is based on the following criteria: The image of the university or institute; Availability of training in popular and new promising specialties and areas; Cost of training; Location of the university; Availability of competitive selection; Assistance to graduates in employment; Deferment from the army, the presence of a military department; Organization of practice (internship abroad); Recognition of the diploma abroad; Availability of a hostel; Informativeness. (The criterion “informativeness” should be understood as the quality of information about the competitive advantages of a university.)

The assessment of competitiveness from the employer’s perspective can be represented by the following criteria: Demand (the proportion of graduates who found a job in their specialty three months after graduation, %); Level of wages for graduates (dynamics of changes in wages over three years); Career growth of graduates (promotion up the career ladder).

The assessment of competitiveness from the state’s perspective can be carried out according to the following criteria: Full-time teaching staff; Part-time teaching staff; Undergraduate and graduate students; Work of university dissertation councils; The volume of scientific research in the reporting year; Publishing activity over the past two years; Budgetary allocations and fixed assets; Transfer of funds; Dormitories, canteens, dispensaries, sports facilities.

These criteria make it possible to form an integrated system of indicators that will satisfy the interests of three parties: the state, employers, and applicants [2, p. 64]. It should allow assessing the capabilities and results of a higher education institution. It is recommended to evaluate the capabilities of a university by the level of staffing (level of graduation; number of students per doctor of science; number of dissertations defended by full-time teaching staff; percentage of disciplines taught in a foreign language; number of publications per teacher; position of the university in international rankings, etc.) and material base (provision of teaching space; specialized educational and research laboratories; access to the Internet; provision of electronic educational and methodological complexes, etc.). Evaluation of work results should include such criteria as social significance (“results for society”) (ratio of admission to study at the expense of the budget and on a contractual basis; involvement of students in volunteer and other public activities; number of recorded offenses on the part of students and employees, etc.), quality of education (level of satisfaction of graduates and employers; involvement and effectiveness of students in research activities; production of educational publications per teacher, etc.) and economic results (volume of extra-budgetary financing of educational, scientific, scientific-technical, and innovative activities; volume of exports of educational services and the share of foreign citizens studying; average wages of teaching staff, etc.).

Thus, the study of methodological approaches to assessing the competitiveness of universities showed that most methods are based on conducting expert assessments and ranking them using weighting coefficients. However, the basis for the competitiveness of universities is formed by such elements as intellectual potential (the totality of gifted students, researchers, teachers), the level of development of the material and technical base and social infrastructure, as well as the state of the university management system.

According to the authors, when assessing the competitiveness of a university, it is important to assess the competitiveness of the graduates in the labor market. As the main criteria for the competitiveness of a university, we can generally propose two evaluation categories: “the value of the graduates” and “the value of the university in the country’s economic system.”


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