How to use the QS World University Rankings by Subject | Top Universities

How to use the QS World University Rankings by Subject

By Chloe Lane

Updated January 17, 2024 Updated January 17, 2024

The recently launched QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023 ranks universities for 54 subjects. It’s our biggest ranking yet, featuring more than 15,700 different academic programmes from 1594 institutions – 103 of which are new. 

Academic programmes are ranked over five indicators to effectively reflect their performance, taking into account academic reputation, employer reputation and faculty research.  

How can I use the rankings to find a university?  

The rankings are designed to be used as a starting point when you start looking at universities. They are an easy way to compare institutions that interest you. 

Once you’re ready to start shortlisting, you can visit each university’s profile page on to find out more about their programmes, facilities and tuition fees.   

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that while the rankings can give you an indication of academic strength and employability, they can’t make the decision for you and it’s important to take into account other factors when making your decision.  

The QS World University Rankings by Subject is also not an extensive list of universities. Just because a university doesn’t feature on a university ranking, it does not mean that it is a ‘bad’ university. Merely that it doesn’t score highly enough on QS’s chosen indicators to feature in that particular rankings table.  

What do the indicators mean? 

There are five indicators that determine the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023: 

Academic reputation  

Drawing on responses from over 130,000 academics, respondents are asked to list up to 10 domestic and 30 international institutions which they consider to be excellent for research in the given area. The results of the survey are then filtered according to the narrow area of expertise identified by respondents. 

Employer reputation  

The employer reputation indicator draws from the survey responses of more than 75,000 graduate employers worldwide. Employers are asked to identify up to 10 domestic and 30 international institutions they consider excellent for the recruitment of graduates. They are also asked to identify the disciplines from which they prefer to recruit.  

Research citations per paper 

All citations data is sourced from Elsevier Scopus. A minimum publication threshold is set for each subject to avoid potential anomalies stemming from small numbers of highly cited papers. 

Both the minimum publications threshold and the weighting applied to the citations indicator are adapted in order to best reflect prevalent publication and citation patterns in a given discipline.  


The H-index is a way of measuring both the productivity and impact of an academic or department at a university. The index is based on the set of the academic’s most cited papers and the number of citations they have received in other publications.  

International research network (by broad faculty area)  

The IRN Index reflects the ability of institutions to diversify the geography of their international research network by establishing sustainable research partnerships with other higher education institutions.  

Find out more about the indicators here. 

How to filter the rankings 

There are several ways you can use the QS World University Rankings by Subject to find the right university for you: 

Filter rankings by broad subject area  

The QS World University Rankings by Subject are sorted into five broad subject areas:  

  • Arts and humanities 

  • Engineering and technology  

  • Life sciences and medicine 

  • Natural sciences 

  • Social sciences and management  

Each of these subject areas represent the overall ranking of universities in the degree programmes they offer in this area. For example, the engineering and technology area represents degrees in petroleum, mineral, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as computer science.  

Looking at these broad subject areas is a good way to compare universities if you don’t know which degree programme to study, but just want an overall indication of the reputation of universities in a broad field.  

Filter rankings of individual programmes 

The subject rankings also offer the opportunity to view the rankings for specific subjects. This year’s rankings cover 54 disciplines, with everything from history of art to veterinary science

This is a good way to see specialist universities that perform well for specific subjects, but which might not perform as well in the overall global rankings. 

Filter by indicator 

When you load the subject rankings page, the default view will be ‘quick view’, which provides the basic ranking and the overall score for each university.  

However, if you select the ‘full view’ option, you will see how each university performs for each of the five individual indicators. If you then click on one of the indicators, the table will rank the top university for that specific indicator, allowing you to view the top universities for academic reputation or employer reputation, etc.  

Filter by location 

Another way to look at the rankings is by location. If you’re interested in studying in a certain part of the world, you can select the region to view the top universities there for your chosen subject.  

If you know the specific country you’re looking to study in, you can narrow down your search even further with the ‘location’ filter. 

This article was originally published in February 2017 . It was last updated in January 2024

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