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!

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)


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.

Read more


Methodology refinements explanations

The methodology used to create the World University Rankings uses six robust measures which encapsulate the principal activities of global higher education. These measures are unchanged for the new 2015/16 Rankings. But as we explain here, the use we make of the data we collect has been improved markedly this year.

The first two of these measures involve asking informed people to identify the high points of the world university system. We do this by means of two annual surveys, one of active academics around the world, and one of recruiters. The academics are asked what their subject is and where the top 30 universities are in that field, although they tend to vote for a median of about 20. They cannot vote for their own institution. The employers are asked to name the subject or subjects in which they recruit graduates, and where they like to recruit them. These two measures account for 40 per cent and 10 per cent respectively of each institution’s possible score in this ranking.

Read more

Changes ahead

Potential refinements in the QS World University Rankings 2015

Anyone who has seen me present will know that one of my most frequently used quotes is from the US statistician, George Box, said, “Essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful”. Rankings are controversial as much because they are imperfect, incomplete as anything else. Were there a perfect answer, and had someone found it, there would be no space for debate, discussion and disagreement.

The QS World University Rankings were one of the first, and remain one of the most popular, international rankings of universities. Part of this popularity has been in their simplicity and part in their consistency – six weighted indicators drawn together to present a simple table representing a global hierarchy of world universities.

Despite the basic framework remaining the same since 2005, QS has not been afraid to listen and make refinements. Switching to Elsevier’s Scopus database in 2007 was one such change. One of the well-known challenges in developing metrics from a bibliometric database like Scopus is taking into account the different patterns of publication and citation across discipline areas. Various efforts have been made to address this problem, perhaps with the Leiden Ranking being the leading protagonist. Read more


QS World University Rankings by Subject 2015 – challenges and developments

too-much-dataFrom a certain perspective, the work we do at a discipline level ought to be easy. After all, we don’t seek data directly from institutions to compile our rankings by subject which removes a major data collection and validation overhead. However, the scale of the output, in our terms is vast. Our main ranking aggregates performance in 6 indicators for just over 800 institutions and thus comprises around 5,000 individual processed data points; by contrast our rankings by subject use up to four indicators in 36 subjects for up to 400 published results. All in all the full analysis involves well over 40,000 processed data points.

Picking out trends, calibrating the approach, and identifying issues is a major effort. An effort which, I must confess, we underestimated in 2015.

In the coming days we will be releasing fact file information for the new version of the results prior to publication on April 29, and we expect to be similarly beset by questions as to how the results have been formed, what’s changed since the previous fact files we distributed, what can be inferred based on year on year performance and so forth. We’re aiming to give ourselves a little more time to get back to institutions with answers to their specific questions, but the most frequently asked questions are likely to be, what has changed since the previous version?

A substantial majority of institutions have been remarkably constructive and supportive despite previous results, in some cases, appearing to be dramatic downward departure from the previous year. The feedback has been precise, intelligent and constructive with many very specific observations which have been invaluable in our process rebuild. The international forum we ran in Sydney last month, was one of the most engaging events I have had the pleasure to attend. I personally experienced a surprising degree of empathy. There seemed to be a genuine understanding of the fact that this is and has been pioneering work, that it is deeply complex. It also provided us with an invaluable opportunity to listen to genuine experts in their field about what we are doing and how it could be improved – above and beyond any observed concerns about this edition.

We are committed to maintaining an active dialogue with as many stakeholders as possible and deeply appreciate the volume and nature of feedback we have received around this. We have listened, and we have taken the opportunity not only to identify and address some issues with this year’s edition but also to introduce some further refinements based on feedback, which I feel genuinely improves the work.

Our advisory board have also been supportive of the refinements.

The five key changes since the previously distributed, but unpublished, version, have been:

  1. The reintroduction of a regional weighting component in our survey analysis which had been inadvertently omitted
  2. The refinement of our analysis of the Scopus bibliometric database to address an issue where, in some instances, we had been counting articles only in the first subject to which they were categorized
  3. The adjustment of weightings in a further six subjects – making a total of nine subjects with modified weightings in 2015 – typically in favour of the citations and H measures – these changes are supported by the higher volumes of content from Scopus we have been able to retrieve in 2015
  4. The reinstatement of a paper threshold of 10 papers for English, and elevation of paper thresholds in Politics and History reflecting the higher volumes of research we are now taking into account
  5. The extension of our academic and employer survey samples to five years, with the earlier years weighted at 25% and 50% respectively. This stabilizes some of the subjects with lower levels of response and increases our total survey samples for this exercise to 85,062 academics and 41,910 employers

Once the fact files are distributed we will make ourselves available to answer specific enquiries and are currently in the process of scheduling some dedicated webinars to explain the developments in more detail – these will be announced soon. We have already made some changes to our methodology pages and updated response levels, weightings and paper thresholds as well as publishing our map of the ASJC codes used to allocate Scopus content to subjects. Read more here.


QS met OECD Secretary General

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On 23th Febuary, Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit, was invited to an event where Angel Gurría Secretary-General of OECD was giving a City Lecture hosted by Official Monetary and Financial Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum(OMFIF) The Livery Hall of London, UK.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded after WWII, in 1948 to run the US-financed Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Europe. Since 1961 when the new OECD Convention was implemented, OECD has grown to become an influential international economic organisation of 34 countries, supporting economic progress and world trade. Through close working partnership with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa, OECD actively engage 40 countries that account for 80% of world trade and investment.

Angel spent about half an hour talking about his view on efficient measures to attract global investments to bring about stronger, fairer and greener economic growth around the world. He had quoted a lot of figures in his speech to highlight the importance of productivity in boosting long term economic growth around the world.

Productivity Freeway Exit Sign

He stressed many times in his speech the reasons that many countries in the world now start to experience slow growth economy- It is mainly because of productivity issue in the labour force-not since the financial crisis in 2008 , but long before that.

To order to enhance productivity, education is positioned at the centre, to support innovation, entrepreneurship, skills of labour markets, research, knowledge transfer. He used the example of Greece to highlight the issue of how low productivity has impacted on its economy.

The OECD Secretary General believed that now it would be the right time to encourage countries to develop a knowledge-driven economy, with more investments to strengthened infrastructure and better finance to support SMEs are all important to enhance productivity of countries, and hence boost long term economic growth.

On infrastructure, he said that measures should be developed to encourage more private sector to actively participate in infrastructure investment through the Public Private Partnerships (PPP).


Questions to the OECD Secretary General
As always, I was the first to raise the hand to ask the VIP speaker a question. I did think about asking him a question on education related question. But since he had spent so much time talking about the importance of productivity and the role of education in supporting. It might sound a bit repetitive in doing that. Therefore, I said: “Mr. Secretary General, you know it is now Chinese New Year now. While people around the world are celebrating Chinese New Year, many policies makers around the world are also discussing the Chinese Economy, which has grown into a ‘New Normal’stage, with slightly slower but healthy economic growth as proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. What is your view on the Chinese Economy with the ‘New Normal’growth, and how would that impact on our discussion today-global investments to support a stronger, fairer and greener growth”.

Clearly, the OECD Secretary General is very optimistic about the Chinese economy. He said that “The Chinese Economy with an annual growth rate of 7% is sustainable”. He thought the Chinese government is obviously very modest about their own economic forecast-“When President Xi Jinping said that the Chinese Economy would maintain about 7%, that is probably means the Chinese economy would remained at about 7.5% growth a year”. “They always tend to low-down the economic growth. That is very smart.If you end up 7.2%a year, you could say you over-shot the proper target”. China’s GDP grew at 7.4% last year”. “At such a growth rate, It does not let you lose any credibility. This is especially useful if you moderate the speed of growth. I think 7% growth is sustained and is good, which is normal, which is proper.I think anyone who thought they would be able to sustain 11% growth every year is not sustainble”. In conclusion, he said, “The current Chinese economy is stronger, fairer and greener growth”.

QS Discussion
After the lecture, Dr. Christina Yan Zhang had enjoyed a interesting discussion with Angel Gurría Secretary-General of OECD on potential opportunities for OECD to work with QS on education related projects. Mr Secretary-General of OECD was very interested in what QS have been doing on the World University Ranking. He was very happy to be given the QS World University Ranking 10 Years Anniversary Book and a supplement of the QS World University Honoured. The Secretary General said he would like to ask Andreas Schleicher – Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at OECD to get in touch and explore opportunities working together.

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(Angel Gurría Secretary-General of OECD took a photo with Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit, holding both QS World University Ranking 2014 Supplement and QS World University Ranking 10 Years Anniversary Book, as a special recognition of the great work QS has been doing in the world of higher education)