QS World University Rankings 2019: Highlights & Methodology

The 15th edition of the QS World University Rankings appeared on June 6. It looks more deeply than any previous version at the global distribution of top higher education institutions, and now ranks 1,000 universities. They are in 85 countries, and 60 of them appear in this ranking for the first time.

These rankings have been compiled using the same methodology as last year, and the upper echelons look much the same as they did in the previous edition. The top four – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Harvard and the California Institute of Technology – are unchanged. Just below them, Oxford and Cambridge have changed places, putting Oxford fifth and Cambridge sixth, and giving Oxford the honour of being the UK’s leading university for the first time since 2004. The top ten is completed by ETH Zurich, up three places to seven; Imperial College and the University of Chicago, unchanged at eight and nine; and University College London, down three places to 10.

As in 2018, the top Asian entrants are both in Singapore. They are the National University of Singapore (11th) and Nanyang Technological University (12th). The top Chinese institution is Tsinghua University, up eight places to 17th. It is now 13 places ahead of its Beijing rival, Peking University. Almost 300 of the 1,000 universities ranked here are in Asia, including 44 in Japan, 40 in mainland China and 30 in Korea.

These rankings are compiled on the basis of six indicators. It is now justifiable to rank 1,000 universities because the QS surveys of academic and employer opinion that account for half of each institution’s possible score now encompass the views of 130,000 people.

To do well, the top universities we see here need to perform well across multiple indicators. Thus, Harvard is top in both our academic survey and our survey of employers. But Harvard is less well-placed on the least heavily-weighted of our measures, international faculty and students, which count for only five per cent each. It is 151th in the world for international faculty and 164th for international students.

Of our other two measures, Caltech is the leading institution from our 1,000 ranked universities when it comes to faculty/student ratio, our indicator of teaching commitment, followed by Yale, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and Oxford. And our key indicator of research impact, citations per faculty member, sees MIT and Harvard in seventh and eighth place, although the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore is top among our 1,000 ranked institutions. Ten of the top 20 on this measure are specialist science and technology institutions, a group that never fails to perform well in these rankings overall.

The dataset that constitutes these rankings also demonstrates the significant increase in global research output. The average institution in this year’s rankings was responsible for just under 5,000 papers across our 2012-2016 window: a year-on-year increase of 12.1%. This increase is yet dwarfed by the rise in the citations footprint of those papers: up 22.2% year-on-year. These observations are conducive to the reiteration of a crucial point about this exercise: as standards continue to rise, institutions across the world are required to improve performance simply to keep pace. This trend seems unlikely to change, and the continued ascendancy of the world’s leading universities is a testament to their unyielding drive for excellence – across all metrics.






QS World University Rankings: 15th Edition Overview


The QS World University Rankings 2019, published this month, is the fifteenth edition so far. When the first emerged in 2004, George W Bush, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder were heads of government in the US, the UK and Germany. They are all long gone, and this year’s edition is released into a vastly different geopolitical environment.

International higher education, too, was a very different place at this time. Available figures indicate that fewer than three million people were studying outside their home country in 2004. Today, the figure is in excess of five million, after years of steady growth that defied the global financial crisis of 2008.

The QS ranking methodology has only changed incrementally over time: perhaps the most notable change was the addition of the QS Employer Survey in 2005. But the amount of data available to us to compile these rankings has increased massively since 2004. For example, the 2019 rankings include the results of completed surveys from 84,000 academic experts and 43,000 employers. In 2004, we received responses from just 1,300 academics. This exponential increase in our rankings dataset means we can now justify ranking 1,000 universities – a fivefold increase on our first edition.

A look at our 2004 results alongside the new version shows that, despite methodological changes and ambitious strategies from governments across the world, an elite group of universities have consistently retained their ascendancy. Most are private US institutions: Harvard, top in 2004, is now third, while this year’s global leader, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was in third place then. Also in the top 10 in both years were Stanford and the California Institute of Technology.

However, one definite trend observable throughout the development of these rankings is the steady decline of the US state university system. Even its most prestigious institution, the University of California at Berkeley, is not immune. In second place in 2004, it was sixth by 2005 and is 27th today.

The dominance of big US and UK universities is also a constant of the global rankings era. In 2004, 11 of the top 20 were in the US, as were four – Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics and Imperial College, London – from the UK. Today, the top 20 includes 11 US universities and five from the UK – Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, University College London and Edinburgh. And in both years, ETH Zurich was the top continental European institution, 10th in 2004 and seventh today.

Much has been written about the apparently inexorable rise of Asian institutions in university rankings, and we see it at work here. In 2004, we listed 26 Asian universities, starting with Tokyo in 12th place. Peking was 17th and Tsinghua 61st. The National University of Singapore was 18th and Nanyang Technological University, 50th. This time round we have 38 Asian institutions in our top 200. Tokyo is now 23rd, but NUS and Nanyang are 11th and 12th respectively. Peking is 30th and has been replaced as China’s top institution by Tsinghua, now 17th in the QS World University Rankings. Also notable is the growth in standing of Korean universities. Seoul National University was 118th in 204 and KAIST was 160th. This year, we place them in 36th and 40th positions respectively.  As a continent, Asia has increased its number of top-50 universities by 50% – from 8 in 2004 to 12 in 2018.

However, there might be reason to wonder if Asia’s top institutions have also reached – whether temporarily or otherwise – a ceiling. In 2004, the continent had three universities among the global top 20 – the same number as it possesses in 2018. Asia has undoubtedly gained ground, but the uppermost echelons of the QS World University Rankings remain, at least for now, predominantly Anglosphere.

Article written by Martin Ince





QS Founder met Peking University Chairman

On 5th November 2014, Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director of Quacquarelli Symonds, and Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit were invited to meet Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council.

Peking University

Peking University is one of the most prestigious universities in mainland China. It was founded in 1898 as a replacement of the ancient GuoZiJian-the Imperial College, which is the highest educational administration in feudal China. Ever since its foundation, Peking University has consistently played a leading role in forming progressive thoughts for China and have been influential in many major Chinese events in history, including China’s New Culture Movement, May Fourth Movement, just to name a few.

Nowadays, Peking University has been widely recognised as China’s top university in many different domestic and international universities rankings. For example, Peking University was ranked No. 57 in the 2014 QS World University Ranking, No.2 in QS BRICS Universities Ranking, and No. 8 in QS Asian University Ranking.

Peking University is located on the former site of Qing Dynasty royal gardens and retains Chinese-style landscaping as well as many traditional buildings. It is known for having one of the most beautiful campuses in mainland China.


(The beautiful campus of Peking University)

It is not the first time that QS leaders have visited Peking University. Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit has met President Wang EnGe and other senior leaders of Peking University a few times before at Peking University. Dr. Christina Yan Zhang was also invited to join universities presidents, vice-chancellors from more than 20 countries in May 2014 to participate in a high level summit hosted by Peking University on the future of cultivating innovative talents around the world.

(Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit met Prof. Wang EnGe, President of Peking University)

The way Dr. Christina Yan Zhang got to know Chairman Zhu Shan Lu was a bit unusual. At a previous meeting with senior leaders of Peking University in June 2014, Dr. Christina Yan Zhang met an old gentleman who came downstairs to the VIP meeting room to check if the room was available. Christina said Hi to the old gentleman without knowing who he was. The old gentleman asked Christina if the room was available for meeting now. Christina said unfortunately not, because she was asked to stay in the room for a meeting with senior leaders of Peking University. Christina introduced herself and QS, as one of the world’s top 3 most influential world university rankings, to the old gentlemen and gave him her business card. Interestingly enough, the old gentleman warmly welcomed the presence of Dr. Christina Yan Zhang to Peking University and showed strong interest in the work of QS.

He said to Dr. Christina Yan Zhang that he would like to see Peking University working closely with QS to implement the UN’s millennium Goal to develop universities to suit the future needs of the world. The old gentleman kindly insisted that Dr. Christina Yan Zhang to stay in the VIP meeting room to wait for her hosts in the university for meeting, while he turn around and asked a young gentleman standing behind to find an alternative meeting room nearby. The old gentleman was very much enjoying talking to Christina that he extended his personal invite to get other senior leaders of QS to visit Peking University soon to discuss opportunities for collaboration. Throughout the process, this old gentleman did not introduce himself to Christina at all. Out of curiosity, Christina asked the two waitresses standing outside the VIP rooms who the old gentleman was. The two waitress told Christina that he was Chairman Zhu Shan Lu, the No. 1 leader in Peking University (more important than President Wang Engge) who enjoyed the same political rank as the Chinese Minister of Education). That is how the two get to know each other.

When meeting again, Chairman Zhu Shao Lu thanked Dr. Christina Yan Zhang for keeping her promise and brought the founder of QS to Peking University for discussion on collaborations.

(Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit met Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council.)

Unlike Christina, it is the first time that Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder of QS visited this top university in China. Nunzio was very grateful towards Chairman Zhu for inviting him to visit Peking University. He started talking about his education experience as a bachelor student of Cambridge University and started to praise Peking University for having such beautiful campus which reminded him of his great university time study in Cambridge. Chairman Zhu Shanlu thought very highly of the work QS has been doing over the decades to assist the international strategy of universities worldwide through a wide range of data-driven services and research.











(Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director of Quacquarelli Symonds, and Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit, and Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council met to discussed a wide range of potential partnership opportunities between two organisations.)

The meeting lasted for more than one hour, both leaders enjoyed the meeting too much that Chairman Zhu was half an hour late for his following meeting. Vice President Prof. Li Yan Song, Dr. Zheng Ru Qing,Deputy Director, Office Of International Relations, Dr. Yan Chun Hua, Deputy Registrar, and other senior leaders of Peking University also participated in the meeting.

(A group photo of all the leaders from QS and Peking University who participated in the meeting. From Left to right: Dr. Guo Cong Bing, Deputy Director, Office of the Chairman& President, Peking University; Prof. Li Yan Song, Vice President, Peking University, Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit; Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director, QS; Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Council, Peking University; Dr. Yan Chun Hua, Deputy Registrar; Dr. Zheng Ru Qing, Deputy Director, Office Of International Relations)

A wide range of partnership opportunities have been discussed and agreed at the meeting. Both sides are very pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council also presented a gift from Peking University to Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director of Quacquarelli Symonds, and Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit to thank QS for the visit.






(Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council gave the gift to Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director of QS, and Dr. Christina Yan Zhang, China Director, QS Intelligence Unit)


IMG_1797(Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and Managing Director of Quacquarelli Symonds, and Mr. Zhu Shan Lu, Chairman of Peking University Council holding hands together in the air, aim to build a close partnership between QS and Peking University. )