According to Altbach in 2004, everyone wants a world-class university. Corresponding developmental efforts undertaken by higher education institutions are very often referenced to improvements in ranking results. Surprisingly, there is relatively little analysis of variations in higher education ranking systems across countries regarding how world-class is defined, measured and benchmarked. Due to the limited number of systems included in existing comparative analyses of ranking systems, it remains uncertain whether ranking results are largely a statistical fluke (as noted by Usher and Savino in 2006) or a reflection of higher education systems and cultures, and the availability and reliability of data (as noted by van Dyke in 2005). With this first comprehensive and comparative analysis of 23 higher education ranking systems published in 11 European countries, we show that certain components and characteristics of ranking systems can indeed be systematized along national boundaries. However, it also becomes obvious that no holistic distinctions can be identified between a set of rankings in a particular country in comparison to rankings in other countries.