Turner, D. (2005) ‘Benchmarking in universities: league tables revisited’, Oxford Review of Education, 31 (3), pp. 353-371.

One of my research aims is to assess whether or not there is a link between project management maturity and organisational performance. This article was extremely interesting as not only did it highlight a benchmarking tool I’d never heard of before, it discussed some of the issues with league tables, which might be the only data set I can actually use as an indicator of UK HEI success.

The paper highlighted two key definitions of benchmarking by Zairi (1998, p. 35 cited in Turner, 2005):

  1. An enabler for achieving and maintaining high levels of competitiveness.
  2. A measure of business performance against the best of the best through a continuous effort of constantly reviewing processes, practices and methods.

It should be noted that this paper is quite old and league table methodologies have moved on, however the issues it identified with league tables include:

  • It uses an arbitrary weighting system.
  • It doesn’t account for differences in mission i.e. assumes every institutions has the exact same institutional aims and objectives.
  • There is no distinction between inputs and outputs.

It was the tool that really caught my attention – Data Envelope Analysis (DEA). It is ‘a linear programming based technique for measuring the relative performance of organisational units where the presence of multiple inputs and outputs makes comparisons difficult’. It assesses how well an organisation uses its ‘inputs’ e.g. student/staff ratio to achieve outputs e.g. teaching quality or research quality. There is no one winner but a number of institutions that achieve 100% efficiency along the data envelope – due to their different aims and objectives. The remaining institutions are then assigned an efficiency rating based upon virtual institutions comprising of elements from the institutions along the data envelope.

One thing did strike me as slightly suspicious – and that was the analysis carried out by the author determined their host institution was on the data envelope.


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