By Martin Ince, convenor of the QS Global Academic Advisory Board
August saw the launch of the ninth edition of the Academic Ranking of World Universities from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, now published by Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.
ARWU uses a completely different methodology from the QS World University Rankings and is mainly concerned with science research. It gives credit for Nobel Prizes and their mathematical equivalent the Fields Medal, highly cited researchers, papers in the weekly boutique journals Science and Nature, and total output of research papers. The result is then adjusted for the size of the institution.
Because 70 per cent of a university’s possible score in ARWU comes from highly-cited papers, papers in Science and Nature, and prestige prize winners, it is not measuring overall university excellence. Instead it is capturing evidence of very high-level performance in science, itself a limited area of academic life.
Interestingly though, the top 10 ARWU universities, led by Harvard, are very similar to the top 10 produced by the QS methodology. We use academic and employer opinion for half a university’s possible score, and also use data on citations, staff/student ratios and international staff and students. Even so, both analyses agree that the big beasts of the US east and west coasts, along with the medieval establishments of south-east England, are the world’s top universities. So Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Caltech, Oxford and Cambridge are in ARWU’s top 10 and were also in our top 10 in 2010.
The same applies too at the lower levels. In 2010, 142 of ARWU’s top 200 universities were also in our top 200, and a similar crossover will probably be evident when our 2011 rankings emerge. The only reason why the overlap is not bigger is that ARWU counts specialist medical universities, which we omit from our main table.
The agreement between the results of these two very different approaches suggests that there is a definite group of world-class universities that will emerge from any reasonable methodology.
● Also published at the end of July was the latest version of the Webometrics ranking of universities according to their online visibility and presence. This approach puts MIT in top spot and Harvard second, and gives the 27 of the top 30 places to US universities. The only interlopers are Cambridge (16), National Taiwan University (24) and Oxford (27).