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Methodology
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World University Rankings® 2018

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For the sixth year running, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) leads the way of our ranking of the best 1000 universities in the world. In fact, the top four universities are all based in the US, with Stanford, Harvard and the California Institute of Technology all following hot on MIT’s heels.

UK universities continue to slide down the rankings, with 51 of 76 British universities falling at least one place. This includes 11 of the 16 ranked Russell Group universities, the highest-ranked of which is the University of Cambridge in fifth.

Despite this decline, this year’s rankings suggest employers are increasingly willing to hire graduates from UK universities, despite the impact of Brexit. 43 of the 76 UK universities in this year’s ranking recorded an improved score for Employer Reputation.

The QS World University Rankings continue to enjoy a remarkably consistent methodological framework, compiled using six simple metrics that we believe effectively capture university performance. Since faculty area normalisation was introduced in 2015 to ensure that institutions specialising in Life Sciences and Natural Sciences were not unduly advantaged, we have avoided fundamental changes. In doing so, we aim to ensure that year-on-year comparisons remain valid, and that unnecessary volatility is minimised.

Thus, universities continue to be evaluated according to the following six metrics:

  1. Academic Reputation
  2. Employer Reputation
  3. Faculty/Student Ratio
  4. Citations per faculty
  5. International Faculty Ratio
  6. International Student Ratio

Academic reputation (40%)

The highest weighting of any metric is allotted to an institution’s Academic Reputation score. Based on our Academic Survey, it collates the expert opinions of over 70,000 individuals in the higher education space regarding teaching and research quality at the world’s universities. In doing so, it has grown to become the world’s largest survey of academic opinion, and, in terms of size and scope, is an unparalleled means of measuring sentiment in the academic community.

Employer reputation (10%)

Students will continue to perceive a university education as a means by which they can receive valuable preparation for the employment market. It follows that assessing how successful institutions are at providing that preparation is essential for a ranking whose primary audience is the global student community.

Our Employer Reputation metric is based on over 30,000 responses to our QS Employer Survey, and asks employers to identify those institutions from which they source the most competent, innovative, effective graduates. The QS Employer Survey is also the world’s largest of its kind.

Previously, international responses were weighted at 70%, with domestic responses contributing 30% of the total score for this metric. This has been changed this year: international and domestic responses will contribute 50% each to an institution’s final score.

Faculty/Student Ratio (20%)

Teaching quality is typically cited by students as the metric of highest importance to them when comparing institutions using a ranking. It is notoriously difficult to measure, but we have determined that measuring teacher/student ratios is the most effective proxy metric for teaching quality. It assesses the extent to which institutions are able to provide students with meaningful access to lecturers and tutors, and recognizes that a high number of faculty members per student will reduce the teaching burden on each individual academic.

Faculty/student Ratio constitutes 20 percent of an institution’s final score.

Citations per faculty (20%)

Teaching is one key pillar of an institution’s mission. Another is research output. We measure institutional research quality using our Citations per Faculty metric. To calculate it, we the total number of citations received by all papers produced by an institution across a five-year period by the number of faculty members at that institution.

To account for the fact that different fields have very different publishing cultures – papers concerning the Life Sciences are responsible nearly half of all research citations as of 2015 – we normalize citations. This means that a citation received for a paper in Philosophy is measured differently to one received for a paper on Anatomy and Physiology, ensuring that, in evaluating an institution’s true research impact, both citations are given equal weight.

We have made one alteration to citation counts for this year. Previously, the five-year window for citations has included the year in which that table was published. For example, last year’s release would have taken into account citations received between 2011 and 2016.

However, after consultation with our Advisory Board, we have altered this window to exclude the year in which the table is published. This accounts for the fact that new research requires time to be effectively disseminated throughout the academic community, and papers published in the same year as the rankings table have typically had little time to gain traction. Therefore, the citations window used for this year’s citations per faculty metric have been received between 2011 and 2016, while next year’s QS World University Rankings will measure those received between 2012 and 2017.

All citations data is sourced using Elsevier’s Scopus database, the world’s largest repository of academic journal data. This year, QS assessed 99 million citations from 10.3 million papers once self-citations were excluded.

International faculty ratio/International student ratio (5% each)

A highly international university acquires and confers a number of advantages. It demonstrates an ability to attract faculty and students from across the world, which in turn suggests that it possesses a strong international brand. It implies a highly global outlook: essentially for institutions operating in an internationalised higher education sector. It also provides both students and staff alike with a multinational environment, facilitating exchange of best practices and beliefs. In doing so, it provides students with international sympathies and global awareness: soft skills increasingly valuable to employers. Both of these metrics are worth 5% of the overall total.

QS World University Rankings 2018 - Tables Information

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This article was originally published in October 2012. It was last updated in June 2017.

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Written by QS Staff Writer

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