China. Picture source:

Subject improvement to drive Chinese mergers?

Martin Ince, chair of the advisory board for the QS University Rankings, spoke during October at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Fourth International Workshop on Innovation and Performance Management in Beijing, the only representative of any global ranking organisation to do so. Here he reports on the reaction.


There was widespread interest at IWPM in QS’s World University Rankings by Subject, published earlier this year for the second time. They were a major focus of questioning at the IWPM and at a seminar I gave at Tsinghua University, 48 in the QS Rankings and China’s second-ranked institution behind its neighbour, Peking University.

At Tsinghua, I was asked specifically about the makeup of the subject rankings. All 29 of the subject rankings use some combination of academic opinion, employer opinion and citations, but the percentage weighting for each measure depends upon the subject’s specific pattern of employment and publishing.

One speaker at the IWPM said that the subject rankings are evidence of the poor overall performance of Chinese institutions by world standards. She suggested that they might provide a further incentive for China’s Ministry of Education to merge universities, in a bid to create bigger and better centres for specific subjects.

These reforms might even affect the Academy of Sciences itself. This massive organisation includes about 100 research institutes as well as three full universities.

However, it will not be simple to reform Chinese universities by means of mergers. China has many specialist universities, covering every topic from aerospace to forestry. There is even an agricultural university in central Beijing. Many of these institutions date from the 1950s, when Chinese higher education was restructured on the basis of advice from the Soviet Union. They are deeply embedded in Chinese professional life, even though they attract little international attention and in some cases are not operating at global standards.

● Another speaker at the conference, Xiangdong Chen of Beihang University, gave a detailed analysis of Chinese patterns in industrial and academic patenting. It confirms our view at QS that patents are useless as a measure of university quality. The majority of patents taken out by universities are never adopted by industry or other end users. More importantly, university patents have the shortest half-life of any type of patent. Many of them are allowed to lapse within two years of being filed.




The Importance of Stability in World University Rankings

The QS World University Rankings for 2012/13 appeared last month. How good a guide are they to the changing fortunes of top universities?

We believe that the rankings have achieved a level of stability that makes them a valuable tool for students, and for university managers and other education professionals. The changes made to the Rankings over time, notably the introduction of the employer survey in 2005,have been few and simple. We think that this stability makes it possible to use the Rankings to track genuine change.

As an example of the Rankings’ high level of stability, look at this year’s top 20 institutions. 19 of them were in the top 20 in 2011. The only new entrant is Toronto, up from 23 to 19. It replaces Edinburgh, down from 20 to 21. This is a modest change and we can easily identify the reasons for it. Toronto has improved in several of our quantitative measures of university performance, including its attractiveness to international staff and students and its faculty/student ratio. By contrast, Edinburgh’s figures show little significant change. This reinforces our belief that universities can only stay level in the Rankings by improving steadily.

Read more

Global interest in QS World University Rankings hits record high

More than two million people accessed the QS World University Rankings online after they were published last month. With social media debate on the rankings also sharply increased, interest in the exercise is at an all-time high.

Media coverage of the rankings, which saw the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in top position for the first time, spanned the world. Newspapers and online news organisations from Taiwan to the United Arab Emirates celebrated the success of their universities or questioned their lack of progress.

But it was the rise in social media traffic that demonstrated the growing interest in the rankings among students and other young people. A post about a rise of three places by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was ‘liked’ 1,250 times on Facebook.

Media reports showed the importance of the QS rankings to universities with an international outlook. In the UK, The Independentdescribed them as “widely recognised throughout higher education as the most trusted international tables”.

In The Scotsman, Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of the University of Glasgow, said the rankings played a crucial role in helping to assert Scotland’s place on the international stage, while helping to bring in new students.“The tables are always going to be based on a small number of indicators and have to be treated cautiously,” he said. “But there’s no doubt they are one of the key factors students look at, especially international students.”

“QS does a very extensive survey of peer reputation and asks around 40,000 academics and 20,000 employers,” he added.“There’s a strong objective element too, but it’s not the only measure of how students choose a university.” Professor Muscatelli said Scotland was unique for a country of its population in having three three universities in the top 100.”

In India, however, The Hindu said: “There was little reason for India to smile when the prestigious QS World University Rankings were announced recently. No Indian institute figured in the world’s top 200 universities of the list of 700 that were ranked under the scheme.”

The Australian also noted with concern that: “Local universities are losing ground in the QS global rankings as international competitors build their academic reputations and begin to pursue the overseas student market in earnest.”

The Toronto Sun noted with satisfaction the presence of two Canadian universities in the top 20. Heather Munroe-Blum, McGill University’s vice-chancellor and principal, said she was pleased by McGill’s consistently high placing in the QS ranking, but warned that this could be at risk without stable government funding.

In the Middle East, too, there was heightened interest in the exercise, with 26 of the region’s universities appearing in the rankings.

The Gulf Today, for example, celebrated the American University of Sharjah’s debut in the top 500 of what it described as “one of the world’s most trusted university rankings”. Dr Peter expressing his satisfaction for this classification said: “This is good news for all of us and that the AUS meets the international standards of excellence.”
Even at Harvard, which is well used to appearing at the top of domestic and global rankings, The Crimson, the university newspaper, described third place in the latest QS rankings as “a little international good cheer”. MIT News played a straight bat, however, reporting without comment that the university had been ranked top in the world for the first time, having also topped 11 of QS’s 28 subject rankings.


Academics give their verdict: reputational rankings by faculty area

Since 2005 QS has published reputational rankings in five core faculty areas as a companion to the overall QS World University Rankings®.

These rankings are based entirely on the responses of the QS academic reputation survey, which this year drew on the views of a record 48,000 academics worldwide.

As such, they offer an undiluted insight into the expert views of the global academic community, who were asked to identify the universities that are currently producing world-leading research within their field and region of expertise.

They are distinct from the QS World University Rankings by Subject, now published annually, which cover 29 individual disciplines using a combination of three indicators.

The rationale behind the survey is simple: academics are by definition those best qualified to judge the quality of research within their field of expertise. Read more

2012/13 QS World University Rankings

The world awaits: 2012/13 QS World University Rankings

Governments on four continents will join prospective students and universities themselves in poring over next week’s QS World University Rankings.

The rankings, which will be published on September 11, are intended primarily to guide international students, their parents and advisors in their choice of university. This year, there will be 700 institutions to compare on six different measures, with additional faculty-specific rankings to illustrate particular strengths.

But QS rankings are also used by governments from Denmark and Germany to Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Japan to evaluate the standing of their own and other countries’ universities. Positions are used in funding allocations, promotional material and even immigration decisions.

The German and Japanese governments have both used QS ranking positions as one of their performance measures in research budgeting. Thailand is one of a growing number of countries to use the rankings to shortlist the universities chosen for additional funding to help them compete internationally.

In the UK, the Browne Report on student fees used QS rankings to illustrate the high standing of the country’s universities. A Government-funded advertising campaign coinciding with the Olympic Games in London to promote the UK as a tourist or business destination also quoted the rankings.

Nunzio Quacquarelli, the founder and managing director of QS, said the rankings were the most popular of their type, attracting 20 million readers a year to the website. “Their popularity is a reflection of our unique focus on the interests of parents and students as key stakeholders,” he said.

Mr Quacquarelli said the balance of expert opinion and objective da
ta ensured that the rankings were both relevant and up-to-date. QS would continue to demonstrate its commitment to transparency by publishing all the data that went into the rankings on its website and by becoming the first organisation to be audited by IREG, the International Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence.

Maintaining the basic methodology that has been used since 2005, the new rankings will supplement the views of academics and employers with comparative data on research citations and staffing levels. To gauge universities’ international orientation, scores will also take account of the proportion of students and faculty from outside the country in which each university is based.

The top 200 positions will be announced early on September 11, while the full institutional and faculty rankings will be released at a special session at the European Association for International Education conference in Dublin that evening.


The surveys behind the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings

The World University Rankings for 2012/13 will be published next week. At their heart is the biggest-ever snapshot of informed global judgment on higher education.

To create this picture, we carried out two surveys. One gathered the opinion of active academics on the universities that excel in the subjects they know about. The other asked active recruiters of graduates where they find the people they most want to hire.

Between them, these surveys account for half the possible score of the universities we rank. This year, they combine the knowledge of about 71,000 individuals. Their responses from these experts provide us with almost a million data points, giving the World University Rankings immense statistical validity.

Although we have always used informed opinion as a key input to our rankings, we have not always operated on this scale. When the World University Rankings first appeared in 2004, one of our proudest boasts was that we had sought the opinion of the world’s academics about where to find its top universities. And we had: exactly 1300 of them replied, rather less than the academic head-count of a major university. Their opinion accounted for half the possible score for each institution.

Now matters have moved on. For one thing, we now use data from employers of graduates alongside measures of academic opinion. We tried to do this in 2004, but the survey we carried out had only 150 responses, too few to be usable.

Today we operate in an unrecognisably bigger league. This year, we have used responses from 46,079 academics and 25,564 employers to draw up the Rankings.

This increase in scale has been essential because the Rankings now cover over 700 universities. This calls for far more raw material than the Top 200 which we published in 2004.

As in previous years, we are happy for people to know about our respondents. Of the academics, 70 per cent have mainstream job titles such as professor, associate and assistant professor, and their equivalents such as lecturer and senior lecturer. But there are also 89 presidents and other heads of institutions. The respondents have been in university life for an average of just over 20 years.

Perhaps more importantly, the academics we survey represent a full range of academic subjects, and the bigger subjects have more respondents. So there are 3870 physicists and astronomers, but only a modest 370 archaeologists.

A look at our sample of employers shows that almost 1700 are heads of companies. The biggest single group, about 3150, are in consulting and professional services, major graduate employers whose business obliges them to think globally. About 2500 work in banking and finance, just ahead of the number in manufacturing and in government. Other industries such as travel, construction and transport account for smaller numbers. In both surveys, the US and the UK are the top nations of residence for respondents, but we have a significant response from about 50 nations in each.

The academics we survey select an average of about 11 institutions each as being excellent in their subject. The employers choose a smaller number, about six, reflecting the way in which recruiters are forced logistically to concentrate on a smaller number of universities. So these surveys are a major piece of information-gathering by any standard.

We are sure that the numbers in both of these surveys will grow in future years. But they are a sample, not an attempt to reach all the world’s academics and recruiters. They already contain enough depth and data to support the World University Rankings.

Over time, there has been growing acceptance of the validity of our approach. The results of both surveys are read in their own right by students and other users of the Rankings, as well as being an important input to the Rankings overall.


● Full information on the 2012 respondents will be published soon at




QS Top 50 under 50

QS started looking into the age of institutions when we took on a fascinating research project with the Australian Technology Network at the beginning of 2011. See this earlier post on the subject: –

In September 2011, we added an age component to our QS Classifications enabling users to easily see some of the different characteristics of institutions featured in the rankings.

A natural step perhaps to produce a table of the strongest “young” institutions. This is not a new ranking, so much as a slice of our world rankings table using age <= 50 as a filter to put the spotlight on some of the rising stars.

Obviously, nothing is ever simple and the exact establishment date of some universities can be difficult to identify – we have marked cases where some form of institution existed prior to the establishment date and separately those that have undergone a merger or split more recently.

We fully expect a few institutions to come forward and let us know that they feel they ought to be included and have not been – we will evaluate each case carefully and make amendments as need be.

Unsurprisingly the results feature many Asian universities and, in just a few years, may feature many more as institutions in the UK and Australia begin to age beyond the scope of the table.

The results can be viewed here: QS Top 50 under 50

Japanese universities move towards new era

By Martin Ince, convener of the QS Academic Advisory Board


Japan is a safe, developed country whose culture has global appeal, an international centre for design and style. Just the place that students might flock to from around the world.

Except that they don’t. As Japan’s university profile shows, Japanese universities do well on four of the six criteria we use to compile the World University Rankings, but fare miserably on the other two, attractiveness to international students and faculty.

There are deep-seated reasons for Japan’s inability to attract foreign academics, and indeed foreign labour in general. But universities are now doing something about their low appeal to overseas students. For while there are many reasons for Japan’s lack of allure foreign students, one of the big ones is within the universities’ own control.

It is simply that they start their academic year in April. That means that foreign students wanting to go to a Japanese university face a gap of almost a year before they can get started. And when they leave, they are again out of sync with other nations. While some Japanese universities already offer a limited autumn intake, moves for more radical change are gaining pace.

Now Tokyo University, 25 in the World University Rankings and standard-bearer for the nation’s higher education sector, has taken charge by proposing a move to autumn admissions. Read more

UK universities challenged to rank in QS top 100

By John O’Leary, QS Academic Advisory Board
Ministers in the UK have become the latest to use QS rankings as a measure of universities’ performance.  David Willetts, who is responsible for higher education in England, has challenged the country’s universities to win more places in the top 100 of the QS, Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings.

The initiative is intended to boost innovation, another part of the minister’s brief. The UK government is using QS rankings alone to illustrate the excellence of its universities in a poster campaign to promote the country ahead of the London Olympics, quoting the UK’s four representatives in the world’s top ten. Mr Willetts acknowledged in his speech that the three main rankings used different methodologies, but set a target for UK representation in the top 100 to grow.

The minister said all the rating agencies agreed that the UK university system was second only to the United States. He endorsed the view of Professor Eric Thomas, President of Universities UK, that “if the British economy has been a stagecoach stuck in the mud then our universities are one of the horses that can pull it out.”

As part of his innovation drive, Mr Willetts invited leading overseas universities to set up in the UK in partnership with domestic universities to conduct research in science and technology and offer postgraduate courses. The proposal mirrors the establishment in New York of a graduate school focused on science and technology by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is based in Haifa. Unlike the New York development, any equivalent in the UK will not receive public funding.

Mr Willetts said private finance would be required, possibly with sponsorship from businesses that were keen to recruit more British graduates, although he hoped local councils might donate land in an effort to attract a graduate school. Mr Willetts has also been trying to mitigate the damage done to international student recruitment by tougher visa regulations introduced by his own government. His department has published new research demonstrating the labour market successes of overseas graduates educated in the UK. A survey conducted by i-graduate 30 months after graduation showed those who had studied in the UK earning substantially more than those who took degrees in their home country.

The report is consistent with the QS Global Employer Survey Report last year, which showed employers in most countries putting a premium on an international student experience.