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.






Obama on (higher) education…

by Ben Sowter


We are living in interesting times. The world is in economic chaos, we are under the persistent threat of terrorism and now there is also a pestilence. Those prone to drama could be forgiven for suggesting that the four horsemen are abroad.

Not a time to adopt the presidency of the United States then. Or is it?

Greatness is generally measured by one’s achievements and their contrast against those of our peers. Political achievement, like customer service or IT support is rarely observed when there is nothing to fix. Obama has come to power at a time when there is much to repair with his closest peer and predecessor having been arguably amongst the worst presidents in history (US News & World Report). With that backdrop in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that his first 100 days seem to have been broadly chalked up as a success.

But what is it all going to mean for higher education, both domestically and globally?

University rankings acknowledge the US to have a good lead but also suggest that this is being, albeit slowly, eroded. The strategies the US pursues are clearly both deeply influential on and closely scrutinized by the global higher education sector.

In late October last year, we ran a seminar circuit in North America visiting the University of Toronto, Boston University, Columbia University, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago. Predictably the topic was the background, methodology and results of the THE- QS World University Rankings. It was an exciting time to be in the US – I was in Chicago the weekend before Obama’s victory party – and I was trawling through the candidates’ manifestos to seek out references to higher education that might contextualise the content of our sessions. There was very little – higher education is clearly not much of a campaign gambit at present. Anything I could find was talking about widening participation, increasing diversity and provided fiscal support to enable more people from less-privileged backgrounds to make it to college or university – certainly an important agenda, but not necessarily one that gave much of a lead on support directly for the institutions to imporve their ability to educate and further their pursuit of basic science.

Still, it doesn’t take a tempered political analyst to recognise that what gets one elected can be different from what needs to be done, or indeed, what will maintain the support of the people.

It seems certain that, given his background and repeated rhetoric to this point, that Obama considers education one the central priorities of his administration, in his speech before Congress on February 24 he identified education as one of three pillars of long-term economic recovery and specifically stated, “our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for”. It seems that the international exposure of future generations of American graduates and, ultimately, leaders is at the forefront of the President’s mind.

Perhaps, then, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, formerly known as the the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Act will now get the support it needs in Congress to be passed as law. With lofty goals to send 1 million US students (representing apporximately 50% of US college graduates) per year overseas for study abroad within 10 years, this would have a dramatic impact on the global higher education sector – particularly since the act is also focused on increasing diversity of both the people going and the destinations. (There is good infomation on the Act available on the NAFSA website)

According to the UNESCO Global Education Digest 48,329 students from the US studied overseas in 2006 – so the ambitions of the Simon legislation represent a dramatic change in pure numbers alone, but it is the side-effects that may prove even more interesting. US institutions will open themselves up to partnership with institutions around the world in a far more proactive way than ever before and whilst these partnerships will begin with exchange and study abroad it seems inevitable that many of them may evolve in to something more. There will also be an associated fiscal injection which, whilst it may be comparatively insignificant to the US institutions supplying the students, may be impactful at some of the institutions in developing countries that are the target.

The social implications for the US – and its international relationships – over the next 50 years could be revolutionary. Even if we ignore the growing numbers in the lead up to the target, the Act aims to send over 40 million American citizens out for study abroad in the next half-century – approaching 15% of their current population. Since only in the region of 20% of US citizens hold a passport (various source data available here), this represents a dramatic shift which can only have long term benefit for the US against the backdrop of globalisation.

It seems the whole world is watching this new President to see whether his walk will match his impressive talk. Universities and their stakeholders are no exception.