Perhaps the most important development of recent years in international comparisons of universities has been the publication of subject rankings by QS.
The new edition published today is the most extensive yet, covering 30 different subjects. The rankings provide the only means available to prospective students of placing universities in order for their particular area of interest, rather than as whole institutions or broad faculty combinations.
A recent report on the impact of rankings by the European Universities Association said: “Comparisons between universities on a subject basis can be much more useful for them than global university league tables that try to encapsulate entire institutions in a single score.”
More than 2,500 universities were evaluated for the latest rankings, which for the first time include academics’ H Index in the calculations. A total of 678 universities feature in the top 200 for at least one subject.
The scoring system varies between subjects to allow for the different roles played by citations and the availability of other indicators. However, the main components are reputational surveys among academics and employers, and the research record of the university in the subject being ranked.
The leading institutions in the QS World University Rankings naturally dominate in many subjects – Harvard tops 10 of the 30 rankings – but the exercise also shines a light on centres of excellence in universities that do not reach the same heights in all disciplines. It also allows specialist institutions, such as Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in medicine, to demonstrate their quality.
After Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)is the most successful university, finishing top in seven subjects. The University of California, Berkeley, and Oxford each topped the ranking in four subjects, Cambridge managed three and Imperial College London and the University of California Davis one.
Cambridge reached the top 10 in 27 of the 30 tables, the largest haul by any university. Oxford and UC Berkeley were next with 32, followed by Stanford with 22.
One more subject area has been added this year – agriculture and forestry, the discipline in which Davis (ranked 100 overall in the institutional table) triumphs. The specialist Wageningen University, from the Netherlands, is second for agriculture and Brazil’s Unicamp, the State University of Campinas, makes the top 20.
Ben Sowter, who is responsible for the rankings as head of the QS Information Unit, said: “Everyone talks about rankings, but QS started all this to help international students make smarter choices, and students tend to pick their subject before their university. Improving and extending these rankings by subject is central to our mission – expect to see more subjects and more universities evaluated in years to come.”
The full rankings for all 30 subjects are available at www.topuniversities.com/subject-rankings