Why University Rankings do Not Change: Education as a Natural Hierarchical Flow Architecture

Why University Rankings do Not Change: Education as a Natural Hierarchical Flow Architecture

Adrian Bejan 

Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

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In this article we rely on constructal theory to show that the hierarchy of universities is rigid, and that the explanation lies in the nature of education (science, news, information) as a natural fl ow system that bathes the globe most effectively. The article begins with two observations: (i) the rankings of the best engineering universities in the USA closely mirror the rankings of the universities that have the most names of researchers on the list of the most highly cited authors; and (ii) the log–log plot of the number of highly cited authors of one school versus the rank of that school is nearly a straight line with slope between –1/2 and –1. The straight line is the same as the distribution of city sizes versus city rank throughout the history of Europe. From this follows the argument that the hierarchy of universities is tied to geography, to how each nodule of knowledge generation serves the area allocated to it. Education fl ows from point to area. The compounding of areas to cover the landscape is the origin of the hierarchical and stable arrangement of universities. The rank of a university is closely related to the visibility of its producers of ideas. The tapestry of a university on the landscape is predicted. All universities grow and improve in time (like all the river channels during the rain), but their hierarchy remains the same.


academic visibility, constructal law, education, information fl ow, news propagation, science evolution, university rankings.


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