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QS World University Rankings by Subject Released Today

This year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject underline the status of Cambridge, Massachusetts as the nerve center of global academic research. Yet they also point to world-leading departments at a surprisingly diverse range of institutions, extending far beyond the big names that tend to dominate overall university rankings.

Home to Harvard and MIT, Cambridge was originally named in honor of the UK’s University of Cambridge, but this year’s results suggest that it has long-since overtaken its namesake when it comes to hosting world-class academic departments. Between them, Harvard and MIT account for 20 of the 30 number one spots. Harvard maintains a slender lead over its neighbor, with 11 top spots to MIT’s nine.

Harvard’s dominance is particularly pronounced in the life sciences, in which it tops four of the five subjects: medicine, psychology, pharmacy, and biological sciences. Harvard is also the pre-eminent institution in the field of social sciences and management, ranking first in five of the eight subjects: sociology, politics, law, economics and accounting.

In the natural sciences, Harvard tops the rankings for mathematics and earth and marine sciences. Perhaps surprisingly, the only discipline area in which it fails to take a single number one ranking is the arts and humanities, though it does make the top five in all but one of the six disciplines.

While Harvard rules the life and social sciences, local rival MIT is the undisputed global powerhouse in engineering and technology, recording a clean sweep of the top spots in four areas of engineering (civil, mechanical, chemical and electrical) plus computer sciences.

Other subjects in which MIT emerges as the world leader include statistics, three of the core science disciplines (physics, materials science and chemistry), plus linguistics – a discipline in which MIT has led the way, most famously through the work of Noam Chomsky, one of the most frequently cited humanities scholars of all time.

The dominance of the Cambridge, Massachusetts institutions is almost total in the STEM disciplines, in which between them they take a remarkable 14 of the 16 top spots. Yet elsewhere the field is surprisingly diverse. Indeed, the University of Oxford is the only other institution to top the table in more than one discipline, ranking number one globally in English, geography and modern languages, all areas of traditional strength.

Big names under threat?

Since their introduction in 2011, QS World University Rankings by Subject have been honed to discriminate more accurately between strength in a particular discipline area and the inflating effect of overall institutional prestige. This is reflected in the disciplines that fall outside of the sphere of Harvard-MIT dominance, in which eight institutions feature at the top of ten different tables.

Of these eight institutions, three are placed in the top ten in the overall QS World University Rankings. Oxford takes three top spots, Cambridge is number one in history, and Stanford University tops the table for statistics. Institutions from outside of the global top 20 take the number one spots in all five of the remaining tables.

Berkeley maintains its top spot for environmental sciences, while its fellow University of California branch UC Davis ranks number one in agriculture. Another of the big US public institutions, University of Wisconsin-Madison leads the way on communications and media studies.

New York University’s reputation as a world leader in philosophy is well established within the field, and it tops this year’s table ahead of Oxford, the University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers. And the UK’s Institute of Education takes its place at the top of the ranking for education, ahead of Australia’s University of Melbourne.

The rankings also point to numerous world-class faculties in Asia-Pacific and Continental Europe, regions that have traditionally been eclipsed by the US and UK in overall rankings.

The most successful universities outside of the US and UK in terms of number top-ten rankings are:

–          National University of Singapore (8)

–          ETH Zurich (4)

–          University of Melbourne (4)

–          University of Tokyo (4)

–          Nanyang Technological University (3)

–          Kyoto University (2)

–          Wageningen University (2)

Other universities to make the global top ten in a single discipline include China’s Tsinghua University (materials science), Hong Kong University (civil engineering) and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute (pharamacy).

A further five Australian institutions make the top ten in one subject (ANU, Monash, University of Sydney, University of Queensland and University of New South Wales), as do two from the Netherlands (University of Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology).

Latin America’s top-ranking institution is Mexico’s UNAM (25th in history), while Africa’s top institution, the University of Cape Town, makes the top 50 in education, geography, law and English language and literature.

This geographical diversity shows that world-leading work is taking place at an individual discipline level at a far greater range of institutions than overall rankings would have us believe.

 

earth day

HE News Brief 8.5.12

  • US: Heavy hitters team up to offer free online courses
  • Middle East: Spotlight on  teaching quality
  • Brazil: Affirmative action decision upheld by Supreme Court

Prestigious universities in the States are putting their weight behind free online courses. Harvard and MIT have announced a partnership called edX which will begin enrolment this fall. With 60 million dollars to commence the project, the universities will be offering five courses including classes in engineering and humanities. University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Stanford have also announced a partnership recently called Coursera, which will be offering free online courses. Both MIT and Stanford have already pioneered successful free online course offerings, with MITx enrolling 120,000 students and Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence course signing up 160,00 students.

[alert_blue]Full Story: New York Times[/alert_blue]


At a recent conference in Riyadh concerning ‘World-class teaching universities’, the general director for international affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education has highlighted a strategy to becoming a top teaching university. Salim Al Malik called for universities to evaluate teaching quality and to set up learning centres to train staff, as well as, to make teaching training a component of postgraduate studies. Universities, he said, are measured too heavily on research alone and that teaching should not be relegated in the pursuit of becoming a world-class institution.

[alert_blue]Full Story: University World News[/alert_blue]


Brazil has upheld sweeping affirmative action policies in higher education which allows a quota for enrolling students of African or indigenous descent. Now the country, which has more people of African descent than any other country outside Africa, is starting to tackle the economic and social divides that many are saying are linked to racial politics. Supporters of the bill say that they hope this policy will not only tackle social issues but help bridge the learning gap necessary for job creation.

[alert_blue]Full Story: Boston.com[/alert_blue]

 

HE News Brief 18.1.11

by Abby Chau

  • An academic paper entitled Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion: Credentialism in Elite Labor Markets is about to tell us what we assumed all along – elite businesses only recruit from elite institutions. A new study by a Northwestern professor says that top firms and investment banks only hire from the top five – Harvard, Wharton, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford. According to the report, applicants not from the top five go into the ‘black hole’ and are subsequently dismissed. The professor also found that it is not important how applicants from the big five perform whilst in the institution but rather the perceived prestige is what really counts.
    Full Story: Examiner

  • President Hugo Chavez has announced that he would veto a controversial new education law which would have given the government more control over universities. President Chavez’s supporters introduced several new laws last December before the newly elected parliament was due in office. The educational reform law would make universities comply with national development plans in all decision-making processes as well as changing the power structure for budgetary decisions. President Chavez said that his government was willing to recognise and amend mistakes. Critics are saying that the president’s hand was forced as opposition to the measure grew in recent weeks.
    Full Story: BBC News
    More: Wall Street Journal
    Read more

QS Classifications

by Ben Sowter

 

The THE – QS World University Rankings attract a great deal of interest and scrutiny each year, one piece of frequent feedback is the comparing “apples with oranges” observation. The simple fact is that the London School of Economics bears little resemblance to Harvard University in terms of funding, scale, location, mission, output or virtually any other aspect one may be called upon to consider – so how is it valid to include them both in the same ranking. They do, however, both aim to teach students and produce research and it has always been the assertion of QS and Times Higher Education that this ought to provide a sufficient basis for comparison.

In essence, it is a little like comparing sportspeople from different disciplines in a “World’s greatest sportsperson” or “World’s greatest Olympian” ranking which so frequently emerge. How is it possible to compare a swimmer with a rower with a boxer with a football player? Yet such comparisons have fuelled passionate conversation all over the world. The difference, perhaps, is that in that context those talking are aware of who represents what sport. That is where the classifications come in – they are a component appearing in the tables from 2009 that help the user distinguish the boxers from footballers, so to speak.

The Berlin Principles (a set of recommendations for the delivery of university rankings) assert that any comparative exercise ought to take into account the different typologies of its subject institutions, whilst an aggregate list will continue to be produced it will now feature labels so that institutions (and their stakeholders) of different types can easily understand their performance not only overall but also with respect to institutions of a similar nature.

Based very loosely on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education in the US, but operated on a much simpler basis, these classifications take into account three key aspects of each university to assign their label.

  1. Size – based on the (full time equivalent) size of the degree-seeking student body. Where an FTE number is not provided or available, one will be estimated based on common characteristics of other institutions in the country or region in question
  2. Subject Range – four categories based on the institution’s provision of programs in the five broad faculty areas used in the university rankings. Due to radically different publication habits and patterns in medicine, an additional category is added based on whether the subject institution has a medical school
  3. Research Activity Level – four levels of research activity evaluated based on the number of documents retrievable from Scopus in the five year period preceding the application of the classification. The thresholds required to reach the different levels are different dependent on the institutions pre-classification on aspects 1 and 2.

This will result in each subject institution being grouped under a simple alpha-numeric classification code (i.e. A1 or H3. Table 1 lays out the thresholds for the application of the classifications. Read more