MIT takes the top spot for the first time in the 2013/13 QS World University Rankings, pushing the UK’s Cambridge University to second place. Danny Byrne examines these changes at the top, and some of the key trends in the higher education world.
Cambridge is once again home to the world’s number one university. Yet this year the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), not the UK’s second-placed Cambridge University, takes the crown for the first time.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts–based research powerhouse is propelled to the top spot by its superior citation rates and student/faculty ratio. Neighboring Harvard University slips to third, having topped the table every year between 2004 and 2009.
“The rise of MIT coincides with a global shift in emphasis toward science and technology”, says QS head of research Ben Sowter. “MIT perfects a blueprint that is now being followed by a new wave of cutting-edge tech-focused institutions, especially in Asia”.
Nine of the top 10 tech-focused universities improve their position, led by MIT, Imperial College (6), Caltech (10) and ETH Zurich (13). Korea’s KAIST (63) is the biggest riser in the top 100, while Hong Kong’s HKUST (33) and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (47) continue their rapid ascent. Both were founded in the last 21 years.
North America and Europe
In total, the US claims a formidable 130 of the world’s top 700 universities, with six of the top ten and 13 of the top 20.
Neighboring Canada has two universities in the top 20 for the first time, with University of Toronto climbing to 19th, one place behind McGill. Toronto produced more published research than any other institution during the period covered by the rankings.
The UK replicates its recent sporting triumphs by taking an unprecedented four of the top six places. UCL (4) moves up three places from seventh to overtake Oxford (5), as Imperial College retains sixth place.
This year’s rankings are also extremely positive for Swiss universities, with five of the country’s eight ranked institutions improving considerably on their 2011 rank.
ETH Zurich (13) and EPFL (29) both record their best ever performance, ranking first and second in continental Europe for the first time.
However, elsewhere on the continent the news is less positive, with nine of the top ten French universities falling.
France has only one university, ENS Paris, in the global top 100 for research citations, well behind its EU neighbours the UK (8), Netherlands (6), Switzerland (5) and Germany (4). The US claims nine of the top ten universities in this indicator.
Technische Universität München (53) overtakes Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (55) as Germany’s top-ranked institution, having finished one place behind it last year. Six of the top ten German universities gain ground compared to 2011.
However, with no German university in the top 50 the results may reignite the debate over the effectiveness of the Excellence Initiative. Some 14 of the top 20 German institutions rank lower for research citations than in 2011, including all of the top four.
Asia-Pacific and Latin America
Another country feeling the squeeze this year is Australia. Although its top institution Australia National University rises to 24th, Melbourne drops five places to 36, while Australian universities outside of the research-intensive Group of Eight have suffered a general decline in year-on-year performance.
Nonetheless Australia continues to punch above its weight, and its tally of seven institutions in the top 100 is beaten only by the US and UK.
University of Hong Kong (down one place to 23) is again the number one Asian institution, ahead of National University of Singapore (25) and Tokyo University (30). However, HKUST closes the gap, moving up seven places to 33rd, its highest ever position.
Hong Kong universities continue to outperform Mainland China, with HKU, HKUST and CUHK ranking above Peking University (44) and Tsinghua (48). However, China has gone some way towards closing the gap. Seven of the top ten Mainland Chinese universities improve on their overall position, with just two falling.
China’s improvements can be partially ascribed to a government-driven boom in scientific research. China’s top nine universities all improved their scores for research citations following a series of high-profile government investments, including the doubling of the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (NSFC) budget in 2010.
In contrast, Asia’s other rising economic superpower India remains the only BRICS nation without a university in the top 200. Two of the leading three institutions, IIT Delhi (212) and IIT Kanpur (278), have improved on their 2011 position. Yet the comparison with other BRICS nations remains unflattering.
China has seven top-200 institutions, while Russia’s Lomonosov Moscow State University (112), Brazil’s University of Sao Paolo (139), and South Africa’s University of Cape Town (154) all retain a significant advantage.
University of Sao Paolo cements its position as Latin America’s top university, establishing a lead over Mexico’s UNAM (146), with which it tied last year.
Brazil’s two other global top-400 universities also make big improvements in a year of positive developments for Latin American universities. The region’s top ten leading universities all improve on their 2011 performance, with 12 making the top 400, two more than last year.
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