Full steam ahead for 2012 QS World University Rankings

Only a few days remain for academics to take part in the world’s biggest survey of expert opinion on the top global universities. With employers also casting their votes, the first stage of work on the 2012 QS World University Rankings is well under way.

More than 33,000 academics and almost 17,000 employers took part in last year’s surveys, and more are expected to express an opinion this year. The results will feed into separate rankings for almost 30 subjects, as well as contributing half of the scores in this autumn’s global rankings. few days remain for academics to take part in the world’s biggest survey of expert opinion on the top global universities. With employers also casting their votes, the first stage of work on the 2012 QS World University Rankings is well under way.

QS rankings are increasingly influential in policy-making, as well as helping to inform the decisions of countless international students. The World Bank cited them recently, for example, as a possible tool for assessing the value of investments in tertiary education in South-East Asia.

The Bank used the QS rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities in preference to those published by Times Higher Education for an exercise which judged the number of ranked universities in each country against their population. Finland and Sweden were the most successful nations on this criterion.

The QS rankings are also used increasingly by employers, who contributed their own views in record numbers in 2011. None of the other global rankings include this key element, in spite of its importance to students in their choice of university and course.

Fazalur Rahman, a specialist in leadership and talent development at the Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company, shared the “wonderful information” contained in the 2011 QS rankings with other managers. “They are 100 per cent useful – a kind of one-stop shop for the information we need,” he said. “I have a really high opinion of them because it is good to know what academics and other employers think.”

Mr Rahman, who has already cast his vote this year, said his company used the rankings to choose overseas universities at which to sponsor researchers working in oil and gas exploration, as well as in the recruitment of graduates.  “It is important to make the right choice because we are looking forward to developing future leaders,” he added.

Academics have their own criteria for judging the top universities in their subject, and these are revealed in extra questions added to the selection of leading universities. Three quarters of those responding to this section of the latest survey said that a reputation for high-quality research was the most important sign of an excellent global university. The international profile of its faculty was the next most important factor, followed by a reputation for high-quality students.

Within individual subjects, the number of journal articles was the primary influence on those responding to the survey. Only in drama, dance and the performing arts were books seen as more important. Not surprisingly, performances also featured strongly in this group of subjects, while considerable importance was attached to patents in engineering and materials science.

More than half of those completing the academic survey in 2011 were professors or associate professors. About 1,500 responses came from vice-chancellors and presidents of universities, or their deputies. More than 55 million people viewed the results, making them the most-read global higher education rankings.

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit, which produces the rankings, said: “Last year’s responses exceeded all expectations both in their quantity and quality. To have such a high proportion of senior academics among so many responses adds to the credibility of the results. So far, we have seen equal enthusiasm this year from both academics and employers.”

Physics and astronomy produced the biggest response by academics last year, followed by the biological sciences and business and management. Consulting and professional services produced the largest number of responses from employers, followed by manufacturing and engineering.

We encourage institutions to direct suitable employers to the QS Global Employer Survey sign-up facility to be sent an invitation to participate here: http://bit.ly/employerqs

Participate in the QS Global Academic Survey here: http://bit.ly/academicqs