stand out

How to claim a place amongst the top 1% of world universities?

Or 2%. Or 5% or whatever seems appropriate

Amongst the coverage of today’s QS World University Rankings was a fascinating piece on the BBC. – Amongst many universities, the University of Reading have been claiming status as a “world’s top 1%” university, and this claim has been challenged via a complaint made to the Advertising Standard Agency (ASA).

It’s natural that universities would want to use our data to help their marketing messages stand out from the crowd, and many do, but they should probably be careful to have a well thought through basis for claims such as this. Thankfully, it’s not all that difficult to work the logic through with a bit of web research, some simple arithmetic and some sensible assumptions.

Reading placed 188th in the world in this year’s QS ranking, which enables them to comfortably claim a position amongst the top 20% of institutions in the published QS ranking, but the big question is, what percentage of the world’s universities are covered by the ranking, and to play Devil’s Advocate, with what degree of confidence can we declare those to be the correct institutions to include.

So let’s begin with the most elusive question, just how many universities are there in the world? At a UNESCO event in Paris in 2011, this questions was raised and to all there assembled the quick conclusion was that 20,000 was a conservative estimate.

  • I have heard claim that there are over 7,000 in Latin America alone, the Brazilian Ministry of Education recognise over 2,368 in Brazil alone.
  • According to National Center for Education Statistics the were 4,352 degree-granting universities in the US in 2008
  • There are today over 800 universities 39,000 recognised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
  • According to CIS Abroad there were 2,236 colleges and universities in China at the end of 2004.
  • In 2010, there were 778 universities in Japan
  • According to the Commission on Higher Education, there are 1,943 higher education institutions in the Philippines
  • A variety of corroborating sources confirm that there are at least 500 universities in Russia
  • There are 380 officially recognised universities in Germany
  • There are 43 national and around 180 private universities in South Korea according to a profile on the Complete University Guide
  • There are 109 state and 61 private universities in Turkey according to official sources cited by Wikipedia
  • According to Universities UK there were 164 HEIs in the UK in 2015
  • The Ranking Web of World Universities on features 26,368 institutions (

The reality is that, were it possible to determine the exact global number of higher education institutions, it would most likely be in excess of 40,000. So to use the Webometrics count of 26,000 – especially given that Webometrics features only 3,280 institutions in the US, 4,004 in India, 266 in the Philippines and 1,507 in Brazil.

All in all, this presents a picture where 26,000 is a conservative estimate and can be used safely and confidently for calculating percentage ranges in which institutions might fall. We can essentially say, with 100% confidence, that there are, at least, 26,000 higher education institutions in the world

So, that leaves a question about how confident we are that the 959 ranked institutions in our list are, indeed, the top 959, without having ranked all 26,000. We survey academics and employers globally and base our analysis on well over 100,000 survey responses. The ever-evolving list of institutions featured in our surveys currently feature 4,854 universities but our survey allows respondents to list institutions they can’t find and we periodically review their suggestions to evolve the list. We’ve being doing this for 14 years now so can be increasingly confident that we’re not missing universities which deserve to be in the top 1,000 for our reputation metrics.

To screen institutions for inclusion in the final list, we look to the top performers in our regional rankings, we look at their reputation performance in both surveys and we track their performance in Scopus. Each year we examine the data of a list of potential candidate institutions and the list gets a little longer. Once an institution is in the list on merit, they stay in. The QS World University Rankings are not an opt-in ranking – we work hard to rank all deserving institutions – so we can be confident with a low margin of error that the top 500 is actually the top 500 we would arrive at if we had the capacity to evaluate all 26,000. This year five new entries came directly into the top 500, last year there were seven. A 5% error margin more than accounts for the average discover rate in the top 500 and a 3% error margin for the top 200.

So, 188 / 26000 = 0.72%. Can Reading defend the claim that they are within the top 1% of higher education institutions in the world? With a confidence level in excess of 97%, yes, they can… even without a definitive list of the world’s universities. That’s a lot more certainty than many well known advertising slogans have needed over the years.

For any other university currently using a percentage claim in their marketing material, that’s ultimately your final decision, and hopefully the above line of thinking and some of the statistics captured here can help inform and defend it.

sparkling trails of light drawing out the numbers 2018 in glowing light to welcome in the new year

Happy New Year 2018

With the next edition of QS World University Rankings coming out next week, and fact files distributed to all featured institutions, it seems the moment to talk about one peripheral detail that may have escaped some of our followers.

We have reconfigured our annual rankings cycle, moving things around on the calendar with a view to, once the dust has settled, provide clarity rather than cause confusion. These changes have included:

  1. Moving the QS World University Rankings forward to June from its traditional home in September
  2. Pushing the regional rankings back to October from their previous June release
  3. Moving the employability rankings forward to September to coincide with EAIE
  4. Confirming our subject rankings for a late February/early-March launch

The landscape has changed dramatically in the 13 years since we first published a ranking, we have organically built out our rankings portfolio without reconfiguring our publication schedule, when we started this we were one of two rankings compilers producing outcomes of a global scope. We are now one of 19. It’s become a crowded calendar.

So… we took a fresh look at our cycle and rebuilt it, thinking about the logical order in which institutions should be encouraged to provide data, providing greater clarity on what inputs are used for what rankings, what events are taking place that can support, or be supported by the rankings releases, when do we feel students are seeking this kind of data most, on average, worldwide.

We have also taken a look at how our results should be labelled. According to previous protocol, next week’s release would be titled the QS World University Rankings 2017-2018… but we’ve made a decision to abbreviate to the QS World University Rankings 2018 despite the release date being so much earlier. It’s easier for badging and logo purposes and slices out five characters for tweet-friendly messaging – even more if we go down to QSWUR2018 – and we anticipate some SEO advantages.

As much as anything, though, the selection of which of the two year’s to shorten to has come from the intention to keep data collection periods standard within a data collection cycle – all rankings produced in the 2018 cycle will be plainly labelled as such, and will involve survey responses gathered between 2013 and 2017, articles published between 2011 and 2015 and the citations they have attracted until the end of 2016, and data from universities, ministries and central statistics bodies collected and validated, predominantly, in 2016 and 2017.

Whilst previous years’ results were all formally labelled with two years (i.e. 2016-2017) in abbreviated form they were often shortened to the first of the two years, we haven’t skipped a year, so we’ll be working to retroactively adjust all single year references to the corresponding year reflecting the new policy.

There may be some transitional confusion, but in a society that has become accustomed to routinely receiving subscription magazines well over a month before the date reflected on the cover, I suspect our followers will quickly adapt, and the resulting clarity will only help.

The results of the QS World University Rankings 2018 will be published on on June 8.

Happy New Year!


QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017: An Overview

The QS World University Rankings by Subject, by far the richest global measure of higher education performance, have just been published for the seventh time. They contain details of university standing in 46 subjects, four of them new this year.

The subjects analysed in these rankings cover the vast majority of academic teaching and research. The rankings include a total of 13,930 positions, making them a uniquely valuable resource for students seeking the best place to fulfil their educational ambitions.

The four new subjects for 2017 are Anatomy, previously ranked within our overall Medicine ranking; Hospitality and Leisure Management; Sports-related subjects; and Theology, Divinity, and Religious Studies. The addition of Anatomy means that we now rank the Medical and Life Sciences in nine separate categories, ranging from Agriculture to Dentistry. Top for Anatomy are the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, followed by McGill in Canada.

Like our established ranking of the performing arts, our new ranking of Hospitality and Leisure management offers a fascinating glimpse of institutions which would not normally figure in a global university ranking. Number one here is the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, making its only appearance anywhere in these tables. The top 20 also contains six specialist hospitality institutions based in Switzerland.

Our new ranking of Sports-related Subjects assesses both the medical and physiological aspects of sport and its management. Its inclusion reflects the vast professionalisation of sport in recent years. Loughborough in the UK is top of this league. It is the alma mater of many leading UK athletes, and its present and former students collected 34 medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics. Sydney and Queensland, both in Australia, take the next two places.

Most of the top universities for Theology, Divinity, & Religious Studies are ancient establishments, often with a history as religious foundations. Our leading institution for religion, Harvard, is even named after a priest, its founder John Harvard.

The methodology remains identical to that used in 2016, allowing a direct comparison with last year’s results. The first two elements we use to produce them are the opinions of academics and employers around the world, using the surveys that are also the core of our overall World University Rankings. The Academic Survey measures which universities are regarded as top for scholarship and research by informed colleagues around the world. Our Employer Survey simply asks where recruiters find the best graduates. We place a higher weight on the opinion of employers who hire graduates in specific disciplines than we do those who hire across the full range of subjects.

To these two measures we add a further two which reward the production of original knowledge. One asks how often papers in specific subjects in the scholarly literature are cited by other researchers around the world, a standard measure of research impact. The other is the H-Index, a measure of the breadth and depth of scholarly publishing.  If the University of Xanadu has published 19 papers on chemistry with at least 19 citations each, its H-Index for chemistry is 19.

Our findings confirm the overall world dominance of big, old universities in Europe and North America, but it also contains some surprises. Singapore has two top-10 institutions for Materials Science, confirming the success of Singapore’s heavy investment in this technology. And as in previous years, we find that Cape Town is a world top-10 university for Development Studies. It is one of five South African universities in the top 100 for this subject, and they are joined by institutions in Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico and Uganda.

Martin Ince
QS Advisory Board

QS World University Rankings: New Date!


The 14th edition of the QS World University Rankings will be published later this year. While the overall shape of the publication will be familiar to almost anyone reading these words, there is one big change.

We have decided to publish this year’s Rankings in the first full week of June, thus breaking with our long-established practice of releasing the Ranking in September.

There are a number of reasons for the change, which has been discussed and approved by the Global Academic Advisory Board for the rankings. One important consideration is that September is a crowded time for academics and students as they return from the summer, at least in the Northern hemisphere. We want potential students to have enough time to make use of our work.

Despite this new timetable, there is still time for academics reading this to influence this essential resource for millions of students. Our annual survey of academic opinion is open and you are welcome to apply to take part. Get started here:

Complete, accepted responses will be used for the World University Rankings and for other QS publications such as our rankings by subject.

The 2017 rankings will use the same six criteria used for earlier rankings: academic and employer opinion, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty member, and international faculty and students. But there is one change, intended to augment the quality of our citations measure. In past years, we have used a five-year data window for both our publishing and citations metric. From now on, we will be using publications data for five years with a one-year time lag, in this case from 2011 to 2015, and citations for six years, 2011-2016 in the present year.

We are making this change because few papers are cited when they are very new. Thus, the five years of citations we have hitherto used were in fact little better than four. This change will enhance the validity of the findings, allowing new and transformative research the time necessary to see itself disseminated throughout the academic community. In particular, it will increase our awareness of citations in subjects outside the sciences and medicine. The arts, humanities and social sciences often have a much slower citations cycle than these fast-moving, publish-or-perish fields.

Martin Ince
Advisory Board


Madam Liu Yan Dong, Vice Premier of China, is one of the most influential female political leader in China and in the world

China Vice Premier Endorsed QS work in Major speech Highlighting 5 Years Plan for Chinese Universities


On 8th January 2016, during an important speech in the State Council of China, highlighting China’s 13th Five-Year Plan on education(2016-2010) for nearly 3000 Chinese universities, Madam Liu Yandong quoted the latest QS World University Ranking results to demonstrated the international competitiveness of top Chinese universities have already been recognised globally. This makes QS the only world university ranking being endorsed by the top Chinese government leader.

A graduate of Tsinghua University, Liu’s career has long been associated with Hu JinTao, China’s President 2003-2013, who she has been working closely with in the Communist Youth League colleague. In 2013, she was appointed Vice Premier, second in rank, with responsibility to oversee the portfolios of health, education, and sports. Liu is the fifth-ever female Politburo member since the foundation of the PRC in 1949. Since the appointment, Madam Liu is not only the most powerful woman in the Chinese government, but also one of the most powerful in the world.

Based on the 13th Five-Year Plan of China on Education: China aims to build a group of top Chinese universities with world-class quality and reputation by 2020.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, more than 110 “high-level” universities will be established across China in the next 5 years. Some 11 provincial regions have also come up with financial support measures, with the total amount raised close to 40 billion RMB. Shandong province said it would raise up to 5 billion RMB, while Hubei province pledged an annual investment of 1 to 2 billion RMB.

Key tasks requires to achieve those goals include focuses on student quality, innovation, international cooperation, teaching quality and so on.

The 13th Five-Year Plan of China also gives details on the students number they want to reach. For example, in 2015, the number of students receiving higher education, nine-year compulsory education, and preschool education reached 36.5 million, 140 million, and 42.7 million respectively. The Chinese government aim to increase those numbers to 38.5 million, 150 million, and 45 million by 2020. A special focus has been put on the recruitment of top international students outside China.

In the speech of Madam Liu, which is published by the official website of China’s State Council, she said: “The international reputation of China’s education has been growing from strength to strength. Some of the academic disciplines in China have already reached leading positions internationally. This has helped to gain invaluable experience for Chinese universities to developed themselves into top world-class universities with Chinese characteristics. The overall world university ranking of Chinese universities have been rising in recent years, with remarkable progress in academic papers published and international reputations. In 2015, there are 25 Chinese university in mainland China that has been included in the UK’s QS World University Ranking Top 500. ”

This major speech took place at a critical and important time for the Chinese education sector. Firstly, all the Chinese universities just finished its 12th Five Year Plan(2010-2015) and is about to start implement its next 5 year plan. Secondly, the Chinese government have not revealed details on how to allocate the next round of government funding to support all Chinese universities to implement their next 13th Five-Years Plan. Thirdly, the State Council of China aim to build more and more universities and majors which are rated as “world-class” by 2020. However, the Chinese government in the past has not made it clear which university rating systems they would adopt to evaluate the performance of Chinese Universities’ global standing. The Vice Premier’s speech quoting QS ranking to applaud the improvements of Chinese universities are strong recommendation for QS rankings to become one of the major benchmarks to guide China’s next around of education reform.

Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit, said “I am completely overwhelmed by this fantastic news. China is one of the most difficult and complicated markets in the world. It is a tremendous privilege and surprise to get endorsement from China Vice Premier for our work 2 years after I joined QS. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in my amazing dream team in QSIU and QS, without your amazing support, unswerving trust, and invaluable advice since day one I joined, this would never have been possible. Next step, let us continue working closely together to help 3000 Chinese universities of 37 million students to reach their true potentially in the next 5 years!”

(Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit, speaking at a University Presidents’ Forum in China recently on the future directions for universities presidents to collaborate efficiently across borders, with top universities presidents from the UK, USA, Mexico, Thailand, Belgium, Russia and Cambodia)


QS HE System Strength Rankings

US ranked world’s best national system for higher education provision

QS’s new ranking assesses nations providing best environment for university success

London, 18th May 2016: QS Quacquarelli Symonds, global higher education analysts, have today released the 2016 instalment of the Higher Education System Strength (HESS) rankings. The ranking, which aims to identify the best national environments for higher education institutions, sees four European nations among the world’s top 10. The United States’ higher education system ranks in first place, ahead of the United Kingdom’s and Germany’s. France (6th) and the Netherlands (7th) join them among the top 10.

The rankings represent a new attempt to use university rankings performance alongside other metrics to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a country’s higher education environment. In doing so, they aim to assist governmental bodies charged with improving their nation’s higher education system to benchmark against competitor nations.

Other key results include:

  • The United States leads the 2016 instalment, with Canada (5th) the other top-10 North American nation;
  • Three of the world’s top 10 are Asian – China (8th), South Korea (9th), and Japan (10th);
  • The Latin American nation with the strongest higher education environment is Argentina (18th); it is the only Latin American nation placing within the top 20;
  • Africa’s best-performing nation is South Africa, in 30th;
  • 50 countries are ranked this year across six continents;
  • Europe is more featured than any other continent, with 22 of its nations providing a top-50 higher education institution.

Read more


QS publishes the first QS Graduate Employability Rankings!

The pilot edition of the Rankings applies QS’s new innovative approach, intending to take the discussions on employability rankings to the next level. Stanford leads this first edition; more than 20 new institutions place in the top 50.

Employability has been a hot topic for the Higher Education industry for years. With far easier access to a far broader selection of universities, it became an even more relevant aspect of students’ decision making. QS has been measuring employability in all of its rankings, with our Employer Reputation Survey running for over 20 years. But given the public’s special interest in this topic, it was time to expand the analysis, step out of the comfort zone, and create a new, specific ranking.

The primary aim of the QS Graduate Employability Rankings is to help students make informed choices for their educational futures based specifically on the ability of their chosen university to help them succeed in the employment market. Thorough research conducted over the course of 13 months saw consultation with, and input from, academics, university representatives, companies, students and alumni. This year’s experimental methodology was extensively refined throughout the year, and we are delighted to have introduced – for the first time ever in our rankings – unique metrics such as graduate employment rate and university partnerships with employers.

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HEW Newsletter – Methodological Changes

The twelfth edition of the QS World University Rankings is now online.

We pride ourselves on keeping the Rankings methodology as stable as possible, so that the results provide a genuine year-on-year comparison of the world’s top universities. But this year we have made a few improvements, one of them especially important, to our methodology.

The significant change we have made concerns our measure of academic paper citations per faculty member. This accounts for 20 per cent of each university’s possible rankings score. As before, we have used five years of publications data from the Scopus database as the foundation for this figure. However, we have long recognised that this approach favours institutions with a substantial commitment to the Life Sciences and Medicine, which account for 49 per cent of the citations in Scopus.

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