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QS World University Rankings: Methodology

QS World University Rankings: Methodology main image

The primary aim of the QS World University Rankings® is to help students make informed comparisons between their international study options. Since first being compiled in 2004, the rankings have expanded to feature more than 800 universities around the world, with far more (over 3,000) assessed. The top 400 universities are given individual ranking positions, and after this universities are placed within a group, starting from 401-410, up to 701+.

The rankings compare these top 800 universities across four broad areas of interest to prospective students: research, teaching, employability and international outlook.

These four key areas are assessed using six indicators, each of which is given a different percentage weighting (see below). Four of the indicators are based on ‘hard’ data, and the remaining two on major global surveys – one of academics and another of employers – each the largest of their kind. Below is a guide to each of the six indicators used.

1. Academic reputation (40%)

Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.

For the 2014/15 edition, the rankings draw on almost 63,700 responses from academics worldwide, collated over three years. Only participants’ most recent responses are used, and they cannot vote for their own institution. Regional weightings are applied to counter any discrepancies in response rates.

The advantage of this indicator is that it gives a more equal weighting to different discipline areas than research citation counts. Whereas citation rates are far higher in subjects like biomedical sciences than they are in English literature, for example, the academic reputation survey weights responses from academics in different fields equally.

It also gives students a sense of the consensus of opinion among those who are by definition experts. Academics may not be well positioned to comment on teaching standards at other institutions, but it is well within their remit to have a view on where the most significant research is currently taking place within their field.

2. Employer reputation (10%)

The employer reputation indicator is also based on a global survey, taking in almost 28,800 responses for the 2014/15 edition. The survey asks employers to identify the universities they perceive as producing the best graduates. This indicator is unique among international university rankings.

The purpose of the employer survey is to give students a better sense of how universities are viewed in the job market. A higher weighting is given to votes for universities that come from outside of their own country, so it’s especially useful in helping prospective students to identify universities with a reputation that extends beyond their national borders. 

3. Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)

This is a simple measure of the number of academic staff employed relative to the number of students enrolled. In the absence of an international standard by which to measure teaching quality, it provides an insight into the universities that are best equipped to provide small class sizes and a good level of individual supervision.

4. Citations per faculty (20%)

This indicator aims to assess universities’ research output. A ‘citation’ means a piece of research being cited (referred to) within another piece of research. Generally, the more often a piece of research is cited by others, the more influential it is. So the more highly cited research papers a university publishes, the stronger its research output is considered.

QS collects this information using Scopus, the world’s largest database of research abstracts and citations. The latest five complete years of data are used, and the total citation count is assessed in relation to the number of academic faculty members at the university, so that larger institutions don’t have an unfair advantage.

5 & 6. International faculty ratio (5%) & international student ratio (5%)

The last two indicators aim to assess how successful a university has been in attracting students and faculty members from other nations. This is based on the proportion of international students and faculty members in relation to overall numbers. Each of these contributes 5% to the overall ranking results.

Alongside the main QS World University Rankings®, the QS World University Rankings by Faculty are also published. These provide rankings of the world’s top 400 universities in five broad faculty areas: arts & humanities, engineering & technology, life sciences & medicine, natural sciences, and social sciences & management. These rankings use an adapted methodology, drawing on the academic and employer surveys, as well as citations data.

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Hi, could you please tell me whether your 'citations per faculty' accounts for the fact that some subject areas receive, on average, significantly more/less citations than others? The above description makes it sound like this is not factored in. If that is the case, surely universities with higher numbers of arts/social sciences academics are being unfairly treated?

Hi, Can you tell me the role the Guardian, US News and other major news outlets have in the QS ranking? Are they media partners? Do they have a role in the analysis of data? Does QS pay for this space that is on the Guardian page? Does the Guardian pay the QS to be a media partner? Thank you in advance for your assistance!

Hi Michelle, QS has many media partners (one being The Guardian) but our relationship with these news sources is not monetary and rather a connection that allows both QS and the partner to reach a wider audience. As one of the leading publishers of university rankings, The Guardian will often publish the results of our rankings but this is solely for news purposes and not paid for by QS. I hope this helps! Laura

HI. I am Prof. M Ghanem from Benha Univ., Egypt
Could you please tell me how a university present documents to be evaluated by the QS? I know there are 4 hard documents and 2 surveys. How many responses you need to consider the university in evaluation. My regards

I would appreciate it very much if I can find courese in English in those European countries out! Thanks for all information available here!

Hi Vita, more and more European countries are beginning to offer English-taught programs, particularly at master's level. As these programs are all relatively new however, more research is required! To find out how to find English programs in Germany, see this article. Laura

Hi there,
Would you be able to provide the link to the methodology used for specific subjects?

Hey James, no problem! The methodology for the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2015 can be found here :)

I would appreciate some information on the ranking based on faculty. If I am looking for ranking based on business faculty, I understand that I should choose the option Social Science and Management. But If I am looking for Economics faculty, will the same ranking work or I need to look at ranking on the basis of arts and humanities.
Best Regards
Vivek Agarwal

Hi Vivek. That would be Social Sciences & Management in both cases. You may also be interested in the QS World University Rankings by Subject - we're releasing the new edition later this month (29 April) and will be adding a brand new ranking of the world's top universities for business and management. We already have a ranking dedicated to economices - you can see last year's results here.

Dear sir
I would appreciate if can have your questionnaire for the global survey of academics.

Hi Ahmed, the QS Intelligence Unit has information on the latest survey available here. I hope it helps! Laura

Hi, I would like to know/clarify the methodology of rankings by faculty. Eg. for faculty of law, after the 100th ranking, did the universities ranking is in alphabetical order according to their grouping ? Meaning that they did not be given individual ranking position ? Thank you in advance.

Hi Liyana, yes you're quite right grouped universities receive a group rank, e.g. 100-150. All schools with a group rank are of equal position due to equal points given. I hope this helps, Laura

Hey, I Really appreciate your post, its very helpful and informative. Thanks Alot. Dissertation arena in uk

Hi. You mention that "The latest five complete years of data are used, and the total citation count is assessed in relation to the number of academic faculty members at the university, so that larger institutions don’t have an unfair advantage."
However, institutions with high levels of research activity in certain subjects with traditionally high citation counts can also gain an unfair advantage.. Do you normalize any of the data?

Dear Laura
Im from Colombia ,and i have a cuestion, the number of Universities from colombia in the ranking is soo low , Im estudy at a Public College and i can't find my College, Universidad Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca , right now we have the second place in investigation impact here in colombia, my cuestion is: How i can introduce my university in this ranking ,or how we can contact you for evaluation to be part of the ranking?

Ricardo Herrera.

Hi David,

Thanks for your interest in the rankings. I'm afraid many institutions are not featured in the international tables, as there are simply so many thousands of universities around the world. However, we are extending the number of universities assessed and featured every year! You'll also find many more Colombian universities highlighted in our dedicated Latin American ranking. To find out whether your university is currently included in our evaluation process, you can contact our rankings team by emailing [email protected].

Thanks again for your interest!

According to the information in the Academic Reputation section of this page, "For the 2014/15 edition, the rankings draw on almost 63,700 responses from academics worldwide, collated over three years." Does the number 63,700 refer to the total number of people who responded to the survey, or the number of nominations the respondents provided? For example, if a respondent nominated 10 universities as the best in the world, did it count as 1 or 10 by your definition?

Hi Nelson, I can confirm that the number 63,700 refers to the total number of people surveyed over the three year period. Thanks, Laura

French universities or high schools are part of bigger groups called PRES and now COMUE. Are you going to rank these groups ?
Thanks a lot.

Hi Bor Fred. We rank the French universities individually, rather than the group as a whole - you can see which French institutions are ranked here:
Hope this answers your question!

Need some enlightenment on how the overall score in by subject rankings is calculated. Please explain. Thank you.

Hi Kathiresan. This QS World University Rankings by Subject draws on the academic and employer surveys, as well as data on research citations per faculty member. The way in which these indicators are assessed and combined is explained at the QS Intelligence Unit website, here:
Hope this helps.


Dear Sir,Can you please tell me where exactly do the top Indian Universities like IIT , IISc lag behind ? In India they are considered a brand,and when it is seen that they don't even make it to the top 100 globally, it feels sad. Please help me with this.
Thank You.

Hi Omk. I can understand your perspective; however it's important to bear in mind that there are tens of thousands of universities in the world, so even making it to the top 800 (currently covered in the QS World University Rankings) is an impressive achievement. Competition at the top is very stiff, and unfortunately Indian universities haven't yet quite broken into that very top tier, as assessed by our methodology. At present, the indicators in which Indian universities tend to lag behind their international rivals are those assessing the percentage of international students and faculty members, and also faculty-student ratio. This doesn't detract from the reputation of the IITs and other well-known Indian universities; in fact, IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi are both rated within the global top 100 in our global survey of graduate employers.
Thanks for your interest in the rankings!

Hello, could you please explain how a university receives an overall score of "NA" rather than a numeric ranking?
Thank you,
Kara M

Hi Kara. That's a good question! This usually applies to specialized institutions, which only cover a narrow scope of subjects (eg. business schools). Some of these institutions get high scores for one or more of the indicators used to create the ranking, so you may see them listed if you filter the results by indicator. However, in order to be awarded an overall ranking position, an institution must meet the following two criteria:
- Courses offered at both undergraduate and postgraduate level
- Active in at least two of the five major faculty areas we consider (arts & humanities, social sciences & management, engineering & technology, life sciences & medicine, natural sciences)
Institutions which rank for an individual indicator, but don't meet these two requirements, will receive "NA" in place of an overall position.
I hope this makes things clearer!

Dear all,

I recently found an inconsistency between your QS World University Rankings® for 2014/15 and your QS University Ranking: Latin America 2014. I compared your rankings for Venezuela and found contradicting information between the two rankings.

The link for Latin America is this:

The link for World is this:

Thank you very much in advance.


Hi John. We use different methodologies for the QS World University Rankings and the QS University Rankings: Latin America, which can sometimes mean differences in order when looking at the rankings of universities in a particular country.

You can read about the methodology used for the Latin America ranking here. Hope this helps to explain any divergence - please let us know if there's still any confusion!


Dear sirs
I would appreciate some clarification concerning your methodology regarding citations.
1. Do you count the last 5 year citations of all the papers published by the university, or only of papers published within the last 5 years?
2. in my university, clinical faculty are only part time employees. How do you count them?
Best regards
prof. Zvi HaCohen
Rector, Ben-Gurion University

Hi Professor Zvi HaCohen. Thanks for your enquiry. You can find fuller details of the methodology on the QS Intelligence Unit's dedicated website, here.

Hope this helps,


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