International students consider both institutional and subject rankings when choosing a school

By John O’Leary

A university’s performance in subject rankings is second only in importance to the level of tuition fees it charges, according to a new survey of international students’ decision-making.

The findings, in a poll of 13,800 students applying to universities in the UK and Australia, underline the value of the 30 QS subject rankings published in February. No other organisation publishes international rankings for individual subjects.

The survey was carried out by Hobsons, the education software and services company, to follow up on the findings of similar research published last year, which found that teaching quality was the prime consideration for international students. The researchers wanted to establish how applicants judged this.

Duncan Findlater, Hobsons’ Director of Client and External Relations, outlined the findings at a conference in London this month. He said that 77 per cent of international students reported using both institutional and subject rankings in choosing a course.

However, when asked to name the most important factor in reaching a final decision, the level of tuition fees was cited by the largest number of applicants – 24.6 per cent. Subject rankings came next, at 22.8 per cent, just ahead of university rankings at 20.9 per cent. Other significant factors were the proportion of graduates in employment and the number of hours of teaching.

Student satisfaction, which carries the heaviest weighting in domestic rankings in the UK, was cited as the most important factor by only 7.6 per cent of respondents. Mr Findlater said the findings suggested that universities should lead their marketing with the rankings in their strongest subjects.

The research also showed that small movements up or down rankings had little effect on applicants’ perception of universities or courses. But universities would find it difficult to recruit in some parts of the world unless they ranked in the top 20 per cent.

The findings were released little more than a month after QS published the 30 subject rankings for 2014. Nearly 1 million people accessed the rankings website in the week of publication, including more than 200,000 on the day of their release. Three quarters were new visitors to the site.

Subject rankings have become increasingly popular since they were first published by QS four years ago. Harvard and the Massachusetts of Technology were the most successful universities in the latest rankings, but others with particular areas of excellence also shone. New York University topped the philosophy table, for example, while the University of California, Davis, emerged as the world’s leading institution for agriculture.






How did we compile the WUR by Subject – Computer Science?

With this week’s release of the 2013 QS World University Rankings by Subject, we produced a series of videos, which explain in a somewhat unusual manner, the methodology behind compiling our Subject Rankings.

The first of the series presents the Top 10 Universities in Computer Science and gives a sneak peek of how we ‘really’ come up with our results!

QS World University Rankings by Subject

Analyzing the 2012 QS World University Rankings by Subject

Universities from a total of 17 different countries on five continents make the top 20 in at least one of the new subject rankings published by QS. The rankings – now in their second year – cover a record 29 disciplines.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard underline their place at the forefront of global academia in a range of fields, topping the tables in 11 disciplines apiece. The remaining top places are occupied by Oxford and Stanford universities, with three each, and Cambridge, which leads the world in English language and literature.

But the rankings demonstrate that world-class programs are on offer worldwide, and not just in the handful of famous universities that dominate institutional comparisons such as the QS World University Rankings. The exercise is notable for the number of leading departments that are highlighted at institutions unaccustomed to the upper echelons of global rankings.
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HE News Brief 1.8.11

by Abby Chau

  • INTERNATIONAL: Webometrics has just launched its new results, plus a few tweaks in its methodology
  • UK: Competition between institutions for the best-performing students is raising eyebrows
  • BULGARIA: Institutions have won rights to set fees for Masters programmes and to audit foreign diplomas
  • INTERNATIONAL: The rankings debate continues with Ellen Hazelkorn, Reaganomics, and the notion of world-class
  • INTERNATIONAL: QS recently released its Subject Rankings in the Social Sciences Read more

2011 QS World University Rankings® by Subject: Social Sciences

by Danny Byrne

The QS World University Rankings® for Social Sciences completes the first comprehensive set of international rankings at subject level, with 26 disciplines now covered in total. The final batch covers some of the most popular undergraduate degree subjects, many of which have a direct connection to the world of work: Accounting and Finance, Economics, Law, Politics and International Studies, Statistics and Operational Research, and Sociology.

As in the other QS World University Rankings® by Subject, the rankings are based on academic reputation, employer reputation, and research citations. Given the professional application of subjects such as Law and Economics, and the relative lack of published research in journals in comparison to other discipline, employer opinion has been given a significant emphasis in the weightings of the social sciences rankings. The results confirmed that employers have a particular interest in social sciences graduates; the most sought-after graduates among global employers were those in Business, Engineering, Accountancy and Finance, and Economics, two of which fall within the social sciences.

Within the social sciences, employers demonstrated their high regard for London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), and the results suggest that the university can hold its own with Oxford and Cambridge in the areas in which it specializes. The university’s applied emphasis is obviously successful in producing work-ready graduates, as LSE was ranked in the top five by employers in four of the six Social Sciences subjects. The university ranks in the top ten overall in five of the six subjects, with particular strengths coming in Politics and Economics, in which it ranks 4th.

However, the dominant force at the top of the tables is again Harvard University, which ranks 1st in five of the six subjects, takes its total table topping performance in the 2011 QS World University Rankings® by Subject to a remarkable 16 of the 26 disciplines. The only exception to the Harvard whitewash was Statistics and Operational Research, which is topped by Stanford University. This brings the number of universities that rank first in one of the 26 subjects to five: Harvard (17), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6), Cambridge (2), with Oxford and Stanford top in one subject each. Read more

The world’s best modern languages courses

by Mansoor Iqbal

Modern languages have never been so important. The ever-accelerating spread of mobility and internationalization – both in the professional and academic worlds – shows little sign of abating any time soon. At the forefront of these cross-border exchanges of people and skills are a troupe of able and willing multilingual graduates, facilitating progress that would otherwise be rendered impossible by linguistic boundaries.

And the value of learning languages goes beyond being able to communicate with others. It also offers a unique insight into a country’s culture. The untranslatable Danish hygge, or the various forms of honorific address used in Japan for example. It allows literary works to be read in the original, perhaps unearthing subtleties and nuances that translation precludes. And learning a language allows a better understanding of language generally. Perhaps Goethe was exaggerating for effect when he commented, “Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen” (“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”), but there’s certainly an element of truth in his famous words.

The importance of modern languages, of course, hasn’t bypassed the world’s universities, and for those who wish to study the subject at university there are a world of options. Universities from no less than 36 different countries, spread over 5 different continents, make it on to the top 200 universities for moderns languages according to the 2011 QS World University Rankings® by Subject. Wherever you are in the world, then, you won’t have to go too far to find world class tuition in modern languages.

As with so many subjects, the world’s best school, according to the rankings, is Harvard, which finishes top in terms of both academic and employer ratings. More than anything, it is the sheer breadth of languages taught at the school that is truly astounding. Over 80 are listed in its prospectus, ranging from traditional European and Asian languages (French, Mandarin) to relatively obscure languages spoken only by small pockets of people (Welsh, Kikongo), to dead, ancient languages (Old Norse, Latin).

A collection of the university’s language teachers, known as the Foreign Language Advisory Group, meet on a monthly basis to explore professional development opportunities and new initiatives and innovations in the teaching of languages. One such initiative involves the teaching of art, culture or history of a particular region in its own language – learning about the Cultural Revolution in Mandarin for instance.

“When you can understand that culture in its language, and its whole outlook, you are immediately receptive to areas where conflict could be averted,” commented Diana Sorenson, Harvard’s dean of arts and humanities. “I do think if we want to train global citizens and global leaders, having them equipped with this kind of transcultural literacy at a deep level is one of the goals of the university of the 21st century.”

Positions two and three in the table are occupied by the grand old institutions of Oxbridge, with Oxford leading its slightly younger sibling in both the academic and employer ratings. However both owe their rankings to the strong performances of their graduates in the professional world – academically, UC Berkeley is considered to be stronger than either. Read more

A closer look at the 2011 QS World University Rankings for English Language and Literature

by Mansoor Iqbal

At the pinnacle of the first ever QS World University Rankings® for English Language and Literature we find the towering titan of higher education that is Harvard, closely followed by the two halves of Oxbridge.

Harvard’s position at the top of the table is largely down to its strong reputation with academics, who may well have been motivated by respect for the plethora of eminent professors at the university’s English department. Faculty members include renowned post-colonialist Homi K. Bhabha, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jorie Graham and founder of literary journal Representations and founding father of new historicism Stephen Greenblatt. Of course, reputation is nothing without world beating research to back it up, and Harvard does not disappoint in this regard. Between them, the faculty published 16 new works in 2010 (and two so far in 2011), including one play and one film.

Just below Harvard, we find Oxford outperforming its age-old rival in terms of both academic and employer reputation, further cementing its triumph across the humanities rankings, in which it finishes higher than Cambridge in all subjects apart from linguistics. This triumph can be ascribed to the Oxford’s status as a hotbed of literary research – at present, no less than 12 literary journals are edited or co-edited by the university’s faculty members. It also scores the highest employer rating, followed by Cambridge, showing that employers believe that Oxbridge continues to produce the graduates most suited to the rigours of professional life.

Californian public universities perform strongly, with UC Berkeley (4) and UCLA (9) cementing strong performances across the humanities, in which they consistently exceed their overall rank. The former thrives on its academic reputation, and can boast Pulitzer Prize winner and ex-American Poet Laureate Robert Hass amongst its faculty. UCLA’s position is the result of its strong employer reputation, which is only bettered by MIT, Harvard and Oxbridge. Read more