Debating the Merits of University Rankings

PARIS — When Nan Cao Liu and his colleagues at Shanghai Jao Tong University decided to compile a list of the world’s 500 leading universities back in 2003, their aim was simply “to find out the gap between Chinese universities and world-class universities, particularly in terms of academic or research performance.”

To minimize controversy they decided to use only indicators that could be quantified: the number of Nobel Prizes or Fields more…