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Learn about the four different ranking indicators used for the

QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2018 Methodology


The QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings highlights the nations with the world’s strongest higher education systems. Comparing national performance in four areas, the ranking is based on system strength, access, flagship institution performance, and economic context. These four categories are outlined below.


System strength

The first category assesses overall national system strength, based on performance in the international rankings. Each country is awarded a score based on the number of its institutions which are ranked 700 or above in the QS World University Rankings®, divided by the average position of those institutions. The aim is to give an overall indication of each country’s standing in the global ranking tables.


The second category relates to access, a key issue today as nations aspire to extend access to world-class higher education. Scores in this category are calculated based on the number of places available at universities ranked within the global top 500, divided by an indicator of population size. The specific figures used in this calculation are the total number of full-time equivalent students at universities in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings, divided by the square root of the population. The aim is to give an indication of the chances of gaining a place at a world-class university for residents of the country in question.

Flagship institution

Next up, the ‘flagship’ category assesses the performance of the country’s leading institution within the global rankings. This is a normalized score, based on the place each nation’s top university occupies in the QS World University Rankings. This indicator is based on the premise that the performance of a country’s leading institution is a credit to the overall system, often resulting from national investment in developing a flagship institution to lead the way.

Economic context

The fourth and final indicator aims to assess the impact of national investment in higher education, by comparing each nation’s financial situation to its performance in the international rankings. An indexed score is awarded for each university featured in the rankings (7 points for a university in the top 100, 6 points for 101-200, 5 points for 201-300, 4 for 301-400, 3 for 401-500, 2 for 501-600 and 1 for 601-700), and this is then factored against the GDP per capita for the country in question.

These four indicators are combined with equal weighting to give the overall scores, with the top 50 countries published. The interactive ranking table can also be sorted to compare national performance within each of the four categories.

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Written by QS Staff Writer

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