When using any university ranking, it’s important to understand the underlying methodology. In other words, what information has been collected, and how has this been used? Find out what the QS World University Rankings®really reveal about the universities ranked, with this quick guide to the methodology.
Since first being compiled in 2004, the QS World University Rankings have expanded to rank more and more universities. In the 2013/14 edition, 800 universities are ranked. However, far more (over 2,000) are 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 the world’s top 800 institutions across broad areas that are of interest to prospective students: research, teaching, employability and international outlook.
They are compiled using six criteria:
1. Academic reputation (40%)
Academic reputation is measured via a global survey, asking academics to tell us where the best work is currently taking place within their field of expertise.
In 2013 the rankings draw on more than 62,000 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 major advantage of measuring academic quality in this way 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 clearly 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, this time taking in 27,900 responses. The survey asks graduate employers to identify the universities that in their view produce the best graduates. It is unique among international university rankings.
The purpose of the 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 useful in helping to identify universities with a reputation that extends beyond their national borders.
3. Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
This is simple measure of the number of academic staff employed for every student enrolled. In the absence of an international standard by which to measure teaching quality, it provides an insight into which universities are well equipped to provide small class sizes and a good degree 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%)
Finally, the last two indicators focus on assessing how international a university is, by measuring the proportion of international students and faculty members in relation to overall numbers. Each of these contributes 5% to the overall ranking results.
While a highly international student or faculty body is not in itself a measure of quality, there is a clear correlation between international intake and success in other areas such as academic reputation and research citations. Universities that combine high scores in the round with an international outlook tend to be those that have successfully turned themselves into international centers of excellence.
Additional information: Rankings by subject area
In addition to the overall university rankings, QS also publishes additional information, breaking down the ranking into five broad subject categories. Up until the 2012/13 edition, these faculty area rankings were based solely on the results of the academic reputation survey. However, this is now combined with results of the employer reputation survey and data on research citations.
The top 400 universities are ranked for each of the following five subject areas:
- Arts and humanities
- Engineering and technology
- Life sciences and medicine
- Natural sciences
- Social sciences and management
For even more detail, QS also publishes an annual ranking of 30 different subjects.