The idea of studying abroad at a world-renowned university can seem enticing; however, have you ever thought about what makes a university rank so highly? Although you might be tempted to compare the rankings of your top choices when deciding, ranking lists might not actually provide you the information you need. In this article, we’ll go through the purpose of university ranking lists, and discuss exactly what goes into deciding the rankings of universities around the world.
What are University Rankings?
University ranking lists are a way to evaluate the reputation, research quality and global reach of universities worldwide. There are three main university ranking lists which gain the most attention after they are published yearly; The QS World University Ranking, The Times Higher Education University Ranking and ShanghaiRanking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities. Each of these lists, however, has a different methodology, taking into account different features of university reputation with different weighting. Although it's easy to look up universities and compare them between lists; they aren't actually as comparable as you might think.
World University Ranking Lists: A Comparison
To demonstrate just how different each university ranking system is, we’ve compiled the facts about each ranking methodology and how it impacts overall position.
QS World University Ranking
Arguably the most popular university ranking list, QS provides an overall ranking, as well as sub-categories by region, subject area and employability. However, the main contributor to rank evaluation is through the Academic Reputation Survey, which is based on the opinion of other academics on the reputation and research output of a university.
Citations also play a large part, which are not a direct indicator of the quality of classes, student life or facilities at a university; and can also be influenced by institutions. Aside from these academic features, the QS World University Ranking also takes into account student and faculty ratios and employer reputation.
Additionally, to qualify on the QS ranking list, universities need to rank within the top 1000 for a subject area, have 100 papers published over the last 5 years, and be in the top 50 for their region. This means that regions with many universities, such as the US, or smaller schools, might have a difficulty ranking on QS.
QS is influenced by reputation and opinion, but is also the most well-rounded perspective not heavily biased by academic output.
The Times Higher Education World University Ranking
Times is another popular university ranking list, which has a more detailed methodology. Focusing mainly on research impact and output, The Times has more categories which contribute to a university’s overall ranking.
However, academic reputation is still surveyed, in two categories – teaching and research. Although each category comprises a smaller proportion of the overall score, it is still based on opinion. Likewise, citations are the major contributor to rankings, totaling 30% – which as mentioned before, can be heavily influenced by universities and individual academics. Other categories, as seen in the pie chart below, are not strongly linked to student experience or quality of teaching at the university.
Other influences on The Times World University Rankings include a paper publishing minimum of 1000 over the last 5 years, and minimum numbers of faculty in certain departments, such as science and engineering. Citations as a large contributor also biases rankings – as humanities and law publish less in general, this could heavily influence rankings of universities with larger humanities departments.
Times is heavily skewed towards academic output, with many universities not qualifying due to the publication requirements. Whilst it provides insight into the faculty, not much can be inferred about student life, teaching or quality of education.
ShanghaiRanking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities
Another popular list is the ShanghaiRanking – this list is very different from both QS and Times, as their methodology is almost strictly related to the reputation and achievements of academic staff. With fewer categories than both of the other lists, the ShanghaiRanking evaluates universities on alumni and staff achievements such as Nobel prizes, and publications in top journals such as Science and Nature. Although they are highly respected achievements, the Shanghai Ranking exclusively ranks universities on these alone – and does not include evaluation of teaching, facilities or student experience, as seen here:
With no opinion survey at all, ShanghaiRanking’s list is based purely off of achievements of faculty and alumni. Although they might reflect the quality of research at the university, it doesn’t give prospective students any information regarding the classes, disciplines or teaching of a university.
heavily biased toward science and engineering due to the publication and Nobel prize categories, as humanities and law have a much lower research output. With no opinion survey in their methodology, the rankings are more focused on the achievements and reputation of faculty members.
Other Rankings of Universities
Aside from these three, there are other lists which rank universities based on different criteria. If direct comparison of rankings is important to you, here are some other lists you can try when deciding between universities:
The Complete Universities Guide
The Complete Universities Guide is a popular ranking system for universities in the UK, which compares universities and courses based on entry requirements, staff-student ratios, facilities, and the number of graduate and international students. You can compare courses across every discipline to find the course that’s right for you.
The Good Universities Guide
If you want to explore universities in Australia based on other metrics such as social equity, skill building, student demand and student experience, this website uses ratings which can be easily compared.
Website link: The Good Universities Guide
Ranking Universities in the US based on many features such as social life, demographics and extra-curricular activities. You can filter your search by what factors are important to you.
Website link: Niche
For comparing UK universities based on academics and social life, this website has student-submitted ratings and written reviews if you want to learn more about student life or course quality.
Website link: University Compare
University Ranking Lists by Subject
If you want to see how a university ranks by subject, there are subject-specific lists as well. Although some universities seem attractive, they might not have high rankings in your specific major or discipline you would like to study. Studying abroad at a university which has a high-quality education in your chosen subject field is also important!
This well-known business media outlet also has its own business school evaluation based on region, taking into account the quality of education as well as metrics important to business education.
Website link: Bloomberg
Ranking schools within each country, rather than in competition with each other across the world, this ranking is completed by the international science committee and evaluates the global influence of business schools.
Website link: EdUniversal
This site ranks the best schools by region and science discipline, and has academic and non-academic components to their ranking system.
Website link: Edurank
Reflect on what's important to you before deciding where to study abroad. Although a university can seem impressive from global rankings, ranking lists won’t tell you anything about student experience, quality of teaching or course options. Do your research and consider first-hand student experiences on the aspects of university that matter to you.
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