Rating universities for specialist programmes: QS Stars | Top Universities

Rating universities for specialist programmes: QS Stars

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated Updated

If you want to know how well a university performs in a particular subject area, or even a particular programme, these criteria will help. 

Subject rankings or programme strength (also known as Specialist Programme) are alternative categories associated with the Learning Experience dimension of QS Stars. 

These categories evaluate one broad subject area, a specific discipline or one particular programme. 

So how does that benefit you as a university student? 

Subject ranking  

As mentioned in the Methodology page, this category allows institutions to be evaluated for excellence based on their ranking in a broad subject area or in a specific subject.  

Broad subject area ranking 

Broad subject area ranking refers to how well a university performs in a large category of related subjects. Institutions are awarded points if they have the highest scoring out of five broad specialist areas below, based on the most recent QS World University Rankings by Subject.  

  1. Engineering and Technology 

  1. Natural Sciences 

  1. Life Sciences and Medicine 

  1. Arts and Humanities 

  1. Social Sciences and Management 


Subject ranking  

Subject ranking is about measuring how good a university is in a specific discipline. Unlike broad rankings that cover a whole range of courses or departments, this zeroes in on one specific subject. So, if a university has a high subject ranking in Chemistry, for instance, it means their Chemistry department or programmes are recognised as top-notch compared to others around the world. 

The scoring is based on the most recent QS World University Rankings by Subject too. 

Internationally and/or nationally recognised accreditations  

Accreditations are a measure of quality and indicate that institutions are reputable and respected. Points are rewarded for institutions if they have a minimum number of internationally and/or nationally recognised accreditation. 

Programme strength  

An institution’s programme strength refers to the quality, reputation and competitiveness of a specific academic department. It measures how well the programme stands out from others in delivering education and fostering student success. 

For example, if an institution is rated highly in the ‘Specialist Criteria: Law’ it means that their law programme is exceptional and effective compared to similar programmes at other universities. 

We now look at the indicators below for an institution to qualify for this rating: 

Graduate employment rate  

The employment rate of recent graduates tells you a lot about how well your chosen course/institution prepares you for the working world. Programmes with industry connections can provide internships, placements and networking opportunities, to improve your job prospects. 

Points are awarded to institutions if their graduates are employed or started a business within 24 months of graduation. 

Completion OR Retention 

Completion rate measures the percentage of students who successfully graduate from their programmes. Institutions with high completion rates are generally perceived as providing strong faculty support and teaching methods as well as well-structured programmes. Institutions will be awarded full points if they have at least 95% of students graduate. 

Retention rate measures the percentage of first-year undergraduate or postgraduate students who continue their studies into the second year. A robust retention rate suggests that students are content with their academic journey, reflecting positively on the university's educational calibre and contributing to its overall reputation.  

Student satisfaction 

Points are awarded based on data from student surveys. An institution can receive maximum points only if at least 90% of students are satisfied with the specialist programme. 

Faculty-student ratio 

Lower ratios usually mean smaller classes, more one-on-one time with tutors, personalised learning, and attention. Institutions will earn points if they have one faculty member for every five students. 

Applications per place  

This refers to the admissions rate that the institutions have for the specialist programme. A high volume of applications for a limited number of spots indicates that a programme is in demand. As a student, understanding this can give you insight into the competitiveness and popularity of the programme you're interested in. 

Universities receive points if they achieve a ratio of 10 completed applications for every single available slot in their specialist programme. 

Internationally and/or national recognised accreditations  

Accreditations can influence an institution’s reputation and standing. Like the accreditation measure found in the Subject ranking category, they’re a key measure of specialist programme quality.   

Points are rewarded for institutions if they have a minimum number of internationally and/or nationally recognised accreditation. 

International students or international exchange programmes 

High numbers of international students can indicate a strong academic reputation abroad, highlighting the recognition of specialised programmes at an international level. This recognition affirms the quality of education you'll receive in those programmes. 

International exchange programmes offer invaluable opportunities to immerse yourself in diverse cultures, perspectives and academic environments, broadening your personal and academic horizons.  

Understanding a university's performance in your chosen programme or subject area can help you identify institutions that excel academically and provide a supportive and inspiring learning environment. 

By considering factors like rankings, programme strength, accreditations, and graduate employability, you can identify universities that align with your academic goals and aspirations. 

Ready to explore your best options? 

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