QS Stars: Methodology | Top Universities

QS Stars: Methodology

By Staff Writer

Updated April 21, 2022 Updated April 21, 2022

What criteria does QS Stars use when rating universities, and why? 

There’s been much discussion around what attributes form a world-class university, particularly with the growing popularity of university rankings and the data used to assess universities worldwide. 

The criteria used in rankings and other assessments is key: each university is different and finding commonalities can be a challenge. QS Stars is different: we rate universities rather than rank them. To make the ratings process as straightforward and fair as possible, QS Stars methodology is based on several critical categories that assess universal, core strengths – including some that are overlooked in other university assessments and rankings. 

Core Criteria  

Choosing the right university is crucial. The core criteria of QS Stars focuses on the building blocks of a university: whether its attention is global, domestic or local. 


Indicators in the research category include assessments of research quality amongst academics, productivity (for example, the number of papers published), citations (how recognised and referred to those papers are by other academics) and awards (like the Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals). 

Academic Development 

The Academic Development category looks at an institution’s efforts to enhance the student learning experience outside of the classroom. In this category we also look at the availability of academic learning centres for students as well as teaching and research assistant opportunities.  


A key role of a university is to nurture tomorrow's finest minds, inspiring the next generation of potential research academics. Typical indicators in teaching quality assessments are the collation of student feedback through national student surveys, further study rate and student faculty ratio. 


Graduate employability encompasses more than academic strength, focusing on ‘work-readiness’ – the ability to work effectively in a multicultural team, to deliver presentations, and to manage people and projects. Common indicators in this area are surveys of employers, graduate employment rates and careers service support. 


Here, effective indicators could be the proportion of international students and staff, the numbers of exchange students arriving and departing, the number of nationalities represented in the student body, the number and strength of international partnerships with other universities, and the presence of religious facilities. 

Advanced Criteria  

The Advanced Criteria categories look at important factors that a university with a solid foundation in the core criteria might target to advance to a higher level of performance and recognition. Since institutions vary in specialisation, this section gives universities the option to select two of the four categories which best showcase their strengths. 

Social Responsibility 

Engagement measures how seriously a university takes its obligations to society by investing in the local community as well as in charity work and disaster relief. It also analyses the regional human capital development and environmental awareness. 


Innovation – the output of a university’s activities and findings to economy, society and culture – has become increasingly relevant for universities. 

Arts & Culture 

Effective indicators are the number of concerts and exhibitions organised by the institution, the number of credits and cultural awards, and overall cultural investment. 


This area looks at the accessibility of the university to students: particularly at scholarships and bursaries, disability access, gender balance and low-income outreach. 

Environmental Impact 

The importance of impacting positively on the environment is greater than ever before, particularly within educational institutions focused on developing the next generation of leaders and industry experts. Page Break 

Learning Environment 

The Learning Environment categories look at the student experience within the university environment – whether that’s a physical campus or an online learning environment. Institutions are assessed on either their facilities or online learning offerings. 


University infrastructure is an indicator which enables students to know what to expect from their university experience. Indicators such as sporting, IT, library and medical facilities, as well as the number of students societies are considered within this criterion. 


Online Learning 

This category looks at various indicators such as student services and technology, track record, student faculty engagement, student interaction, commitment to online and reputation of the university. 

Specialist Criteria 

The Specialist Criteria categories take a closer look at an institution’s specialist areas, using subject rankings or programme-specific data to highlight outstanding programmes. Institutions are assessed in one of the two categories: 

Subject Ranking 

There are a great number of universities that can be considered to be specialist institutions. These specialist schools focus on either a general subject area or, in some cases, a very narrow area of expertise. In addition to this, even many comprehensive universities will have subject areas in which they excel beyond all others. 


Programme Strength 

The Programme Strength category was introduced as an alternate to Subject Ranking to cater to universities that did not have a broad or narrow field ranking in the QS World University Ranking by Subject. This category was based on a similar category in the methodology for QS Stars for Business Schools. Although similar, the thresholds and points differ for all.  

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in April 2022

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