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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 of leading universities around the world. Based on six performance indicators, the rankings are designed to assess universities in four areas: research, teaching, employability and internationalization.

Each of the six indicators carries a different weighting when calculating the overall scores (see below). Four of the indicators are based on ‘hard’ data, and the remaining two are based on major global surveys – one of academics and another of employers – each the largest of their kind.

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 own field of expertise. The aim is to give prospective students a sense of the consensus of opinion within the international academic community.

For the 2015/16 edition, the rankings draw on just under 76,800 responses from academics worldwide, collated over a five year period. 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.

2. Employer reputation (10%)

The employer reputation indicator is also based on a global survey, taking in more than 44,200 responses for the 2015/16 edition. The survey asks employers to identify the universities they perceive to be 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 graduate jobs market. A higher weighting is given to votes for universities that come from outside of their own country, so this indicator is especially useful for prospective students seeking 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, this indicator aims to identify 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 impact. 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, 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 do not have an unfair advantage.

For the 2015/16 edition of the QS World University Rankings, several refinements have been introduced to the way this indicator is assessed, with the aim of providing a more balanced reflection of research impact across different faculty areas. You can find out more about these refinements here.

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 academics from other nations. This is based on the proportion of international students and faculty members at the institution. Each of these indicators contributes 5% to the overall ranking results.

Since the QS World University Rankings were first developed in 2004, they have expanded to rank more than 800 universities, with thousands more assessed each year. The top 400 universities are given individual ranking positions, and the rest are ranked in groups – starting from 401-410, up to 701+. The results are published in an interactive ranking table, which can be sorted by country/region and by each of the six performance indicators listed above.

Alongside the overall QS World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings by Faculty are published on the same release date. These provide rankings of the world’s top 400 universities in five faculty areas: arts & humanities, engineering & technology, life sciences & medicine, natural sciences, and social sciences & management. These rankings are compiled using the academic and employer surveys, as well as research citations data.

This article was originally published in October 2012. It was last updated in September 2015.

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Written by QS Staff Writer

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While I like the QS rankings on the whole, the new methodology for normalizing citations is quite flawed. I am not sure that is the best approach. For example, I am from the UK. I saw that Imperial College London was ranked number 2 last year and this year is at 8. When I tried to find the reason why, it was because they are now 108 in citations per faculty. They are one of the most cited per faculty universities in the world, and lost 6 places because of artificially imposed normalized citation rankings. The nerds at Imperial are no where near 108th for citations, they are world class, so it was quite surprising they would be downgraded as such. I think it is quite a man made and biased system for ranking. The new Round University Rankings seem much more fair and accurate, then this normalization system being used to account for 20 % of a rating. 20% of a rating is man made now.

Hi Mike, I've responded to your feedback here. :)

Hi QS Team,

How many universities are considered for the world university ranking?
If we are No. 400, out of how many this is?

Michael Sebek

Hi Michael, we currently rank around 890 universities around the world. 

Good Morning. What is the assessment tool used to evaluate the academic reputation? Thanks.

Hi Fabiana, academic reputation is assessed using a survey taken by academics worldwide. You can find out more about how this indicator is gathered here. Hope this helps! 

Hi QS Team,
When you list out the undergraduate and graduate fees for domestic/international, does that include 1 academic year or 1 semester? Thank you!

Hi Kristen, I'm afraid I'm not sure on your question, as we don't consider fees when ranking universities. Please could you clarify where you saw this information on fees?

Hello QS Team, I have a question regarding to #NA overall ranking. Could you please tell me what it means and why is it that some universities/schools are assigned this ranking? Thank you very much.

Hi Marie Anne, universities receive the '#NA' position when they are too specialized to receive an overall ranking - they need to teach at least two different faculty areas to be ranked. These universities can still appear in the subject or faculty rankings - as an example, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden is currently ranked 9th for medicine but does not receive a position in our overall rankings. You can find out more here. Hope this helps. :)

Hi QS-Team, I have a question regarding the citations per faculty: You take the citations from Skopus, but which source do you use for the number of academics? Is this Skopus, too?
Thank you :-)

Hi Sebastian, the universities themselves send us data on how many academics there are, which we then verify. 

Dear Sir/Madam,
I wonder that what does our university can attend this ranking? I mean this ranking list is really good therefore I cannot understand how these indicators are obtained by global survey?Please answer my question.

Hi Ayse, I'm not quite sure what you're asking - please could you clarify what you'd like to know? :)

Dear Sir, Madam,
I was looking at your ranking based on the student-to-staff ratio and I was wondering how it is calculated. For example, POSTECH, which has a score of 99.6, has 3017 students and 671 staff according to your figures, which gives a ratio of 4.58. Stanford University, which has a score of 99.5, has 6407 students and 3844 staff, which gives a ratio of 4.27. Why is POSTECH then ranked higher than Stanford (although just by 0.1 point) despite have a worse ratio?

In addition, I see multiple universities have a score of 100.0, although they can have quite different student-to-faculty ratios. Could you please clarify why this is? Thank you.

Hi Cathelijn. Thanks for your question. This discrepancy may be due to differences in the number of full-time staff members, as this is what we base the ratio on. In terms of the '100' score, this is because we have a cut-off point above which all universities score 100 for the indicator. I hope this helps.

Hi, It is a great news to have Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta (UMS) in the top nine universities in Indonesia by QS. It is the only private university and is the first time for UMS in ranking list. However, I was wondering if you can give me litle bit more detail about how UMS can be in the list. It is very important so UMS will be in the list for the next.

Dear Mam, I am a PhD scholar who plan to introduce a ranking system for academic libraries. Could you please tell me currently are you use any library related data to calculate QS? if not, what is the reason on it. and let me know which criteria should be consider when rank libraries.

do you consider any publication threshold for ranking. For example I searched rank of "institute for advanced studies in basic sciences". it meets 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
I would appreciate if you inform me rank of this university

dear mam/sir please could you tell me how QS getting individual indicator score out 100 from raw data which is normally of different scale for each university..with my little knowledge in data analytics..i know that this kind conversion generally does by normalization techniques..which normalization technique QS following ???
Thanks in advance.
please answer this question asap !!

Hi Ramavath. You can get an overview of our methodology changes this year here, and an in-depth explanation by downloading this pdf. Hope this helps!

Hi -please could you let me know when in the year the rankings are updated? Thanks

Hi Harriet, and thank you for your interest. We release new world rankings every September, with further rankings throughout the year. You can keep up with the rankings releases by following us on Twitter or Facebook.

Dear Sir/Madam,

It's absolutely annoying to have different methodologies to measure World and Latin America...
The ordered results differ from one another, for example, Universidade de Sao Paulo, is #1 in Latam Ranking, but, taking in account only the latinamerican countries, but in the world index is #2.
Or a more drastic example, Universidad de Buenos Aires is #1 in world ranking, comparing to other latam universities, but in the specific index of the area is #15 !!!!

With such differences, which measurement should be considered more accurate?

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.

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