LinkedIn Launches University Rankings

I expect this will cause quite a lot of debate and discussion over the next few weeks. ;-)

University rankings are a little bit like reality TV. Everyone agrees the quality is terrible, and yet almost everyone is watching obsessively. This ranking is interesting, because it takes a simple data driven approach, looking at the job pathways and career decisions LinkedIn users make. The most popular rankings use a mix of input indicators (student to faculty ratio, etc.) and output indicators (citations of published research, etc.) and have been criticized for arbitrary results. I liked this Malcolm Gladwell article which showed how changing the relevance of individual indicators would completely change the results. LinkedIn on the other hand, argues it uses outcome indicators.

How the LinkedIn model works (more detail here) > Using the huge amount of data LinkedIn has on individual’s education and career histories, it defines desirable companies for a number of professional fields, like software or finance. (I wonder if LinkedIn itself is one of the desirable companies.) It and then tracks how many graduates from a particular university, who chose a career in a field, ended up working for the most desirable companies in that field.

If employment is a competition, and university is your training camp, then getting hired by a desirable company means winning the gold medal.

While this approach is probably less arbitrary than previous rankings, it does come with a number of important reservations. One, it would be wrong to do, what almost everybody is immediately going to do -> turn the picture around and start tinkering with the university education in order to make more graduates end up in the most desirable companies. We should absolutely prepare our graduates to be successful in any field they choose, but the most desirable companies of today may not even exist 15 years from now. There was a time when every software developer wanted to work at Microsoft, or at Yahoo.

There are also lots of other limitations and biases, which however won’t limit the amount of excitement this new ranking is likely to cause. For example, employers of a certain age and maturity will rank higher than small new organizations. There is no fast feedback for most entrepreneurial sectors of the future, those will take some time to show up in the data.

But overall I am intrigued to see LinkedIn step into this space, and consider it a useful nudge to all of us to have a meaningful conversation about what the role of the university of the future should be.