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Excellence Labels and University Rankings Influence University Choice only to a Moderate Extent
The university's proximity to the parents' place of residence is still the most important factor in the decision for a university. This is shown by a current study of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
The study analyses to which extent different quality dimensions of a well-known German university ranking as well as the German excellence initiative of 2006 and 2007 influence applicants in their choice for a university. The employed data set comprises about 4.500 applications for a university place in medical studies received by the German central clearinghouse for the allocation of university places (ZVS) over the years 2002 to 2008.
These applications are exclusively from graduates with the best possible grade in the German school system (1.0), in order to avoid biased results due to strategic application behaviour. As the top grade nearly guarantees the acceptance at the preferred university, these applicants can state their true preferences in the application process.
The results point out, that an excellence label influences university choice positively. During the observation period, the number of applications for a "university of excellence" increased by 19 per cent on average. Furthermore, the econometric calculations of the ZEW show that also the performance in the university ranking influences the applicants' decision.
As to be expected, university applicants with excellent academic achievements apply more often at universities with an excellent research reputation. However, it becomes apparent that this application behaviour cannot be directly linked to the good results within the university ranking. Since the universities' quality of research is commonly known and is mainly perceived as constant over time, the ranking indicators concerning the research dimension do not provide any additional information for the applicants.
The results suggest that the non-research dimensions "student-professor ratio", "the number of clinic beds", and the "students' satisfaction" rather than the research-related indicators "research reputation" and "professors recommendation" influence university choice of high-ability students. Hence, university rankings are important to the applicants, if they add new information to the common knowledge of university quality.
Overall, the influence of rankings and excellence labels for choosing a university is rather moderate. Distance between a student's hometown and the university remains the most powerful determinant of university choice in Germany.
The study is available under www.zew.de/publikation6394
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