The QS World University Rankings® have been in existence since 2004, but since 2011 the study has been extended to encompass a range of popular individual subjects.
The majority of prospective international students begin their search knowing what they want to study before considering where, so understanding the comparative quality of institution by subject is fundamental to the QS mission to support students in their decision making. QS aims to add more depth, more detail and more subjects to this work year by year and anticipates that these tables will, in time, become more important than the overall result.
Any international ranking faces various challenges relating to the equal availability and applicability of data within different countries and university systems. Many indicators of university quality commonly used in domestic rankings, such as the average entry tariff of admitted students, are not yet applicable on an international level and are thus not included in any of these exercises. And in areas where universities themselves can provide data, the efficiency with which it is collected varies by region. While the depth of data available from the UK, Australia and the US may be exemplary it is yet to be matched by that in India, Greece or Brazil, for example.
These challenges become more pronounced when the focus of a ranking is narrowed to a particular aspect of university performance. While it may be reasonable to expect a university to have a decent understanding of its average faculty-student ratio, to break that down by faculty or department is difficult in even the most advanced cultures of data provision.
For this reason the methodology for QS World University Rankings by Subject has been narrowed to include only those indicators that bypass the direct involvement of institutions and can reliably be stratified by subject discipline. This page outlines the QS approach for doing so, and how it has been used to produce the new QS World University Rankings® by Subject.
NEW FOR 2015: This methodology has long recognized that subjects are different from one another. As it has extended to new subject areas it has been revealed as appropriate not only to adjust weightings between disciplines, but also to recognize some as fundamentally “larger” than others. More institutions offer Computer Science than Architecture, more academics operate in Physics than Philosophy and employers actively seek Engineers than Geographers. Collectively these factors lead to different levels of strength in depth in the data and as a result from 2015, the number of institutions published in these rankings will vary by discipline from as few as 50 in Dentistry to as many as 400 in Physics.
If you want to promote your results you can now download official badges for the subjects in which your institution is eligible here.
QS has three extensive datasets that enable us to drill down by subject area: our ACADEMIC and EMPLOYER reputation surveys, and the Scopus data we use for our CITATIONS per Faculty indicator in the global rankings. These have been combined to produce our subject results.
Obviously there are innumerable subject disciplines and sub disciplines. Through analysis of academic survey results over a protracted period and publication data from Scopus, QS Intelligence Unit has identified 52 subject areas which may, at some stage in the next few years, reach the necessary data levels to facilitate a ranking. These are listed in Figure 4 and have been selected due to their meeting all of the following criteria:
Inclusion of specialists
QS has ensured that surveys have included all key specialist institutions operating within the discipline, regardless of whether they may have been expected to feature in the overall QS World University Rankings®
Academic Response Level
Subject attracts sufficient academic responses.
Overall Appropriateness of Indicators
Indicators and approach prove appropriate and effective in highlighting excellence in the discipline.
In order to feature in any discipline table, an institution must meet three simple prerequisites:
- Exceed the minimum required score for the academic and/or employer reputation indicators
- Exceed the five-year threshold for number of papers published in the given discipline
- Offer undergraduate or taught postgraduate programs in the given discipline
Not all disciplines can be considered equal. Publication and citation rates are far higher in life sciences and natural sciences than in social sciences or arts & humanities and therefore there is more data. It would not make sense to place the same emphasis on citations in medicine and English language and literature.
Similarly the popularity of particular disciplines amongst employers varies greatly, and placing the same emphasis on employer opinion in economics and philosophy therefore makes little sense. Taking these factors into account leads to a variable approach to the weightings for the different subjects, which can be seen in Figure 1 above.
In principle, in the future additional indicators may be introduced that could contribute to as few as one single subject area.