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US Leads New Ranking of National Higher Education Systems

US Leads New Ranking of National Higher Education Systems main image

The new QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, published for the first time today, is led by the US, followed by the UK and Germany. The top five is completed by Australia and Canada, with two more European entries – France and the Netherlands – next in line. The top 10 concludes with a trio of Asian representatives: China, South Korea and Japan.

Published for the first time this year, this new ranking joins QS’s extensive portfolio of university rankings. As well as providing an additional resource for the prospective international students who form the organization’s primary audience, this country-level index is expected to be of additional interest to governments and policy makers, as a new national benchmarking tool.

The ranking assesses each country in four categories – system strength, access, flagship institution, and economic context – combining university rankings with a range of other indicators to give a broader picture of national strengths in higher education provision and performance.

Where are the strongest HE systems?

QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2016


Of the 50 countries included in the index, almost half (22) are in Europe. The UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, which all make the top 10, are joined in the top 20 by Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Belgium and Finland.

The leading Latin American entry is Argentina (18th), followed by Brazil (22nd), Chile (31st), Mexico (33rd) and Colombia (34th). Africa’s leading representative is South Africa (30th), while Egypt also makes the list (47th).

Asia’s fast-growing economies are also well-represented. China, South Korea and Japan, all in the top 10, are followed by Taiwan and Hong Kong within the top 20, with Singapore just outside and Malaysia not far behind.

Putting rankings in context

The first of the categories considered, “system strength”, is based on the number of institutions featured in the international rankings. The second, “access”, reflects the number of places available at internationally ranked universities. The third, “flagship institution”, assesses the performance of each country’s leading university. The fourth, “economic context”, factors performance in the global rankings against GDP per capita, to give an indication of the extent to which financial investment is translating into ranking representation.

As well as leading overall, the US sets the bar in all four of these individual categories. The UK claims its strongest scores in the system strength and flagship institution indicators, coming second for both of these. It’s also third in the economic category and fifth for access.

China’s stand-out score, unsurprisingly, comes when economic context is considered. When GDP per capita is factored against international rankings performance, China is second only to the US. India also fares well in this category, coming fourth on this measure.

On the other hand, Singapore’s strong scores in the system strength and flagship institution categories – for which it ranks third and fourth respectively – are counterbalanced by weaker scores in the remaining two indicators, bringing it to 21st position overall.

Australia, which ranks fourth overall, is particularly strong in the access category, where it claims second place, followed by Germany and Canada. Italy also performs particularly well in this indicator, for which it ranks sixth.  

The top 50 countries can be viewed in an online interactive table, which can be sorted to show results in each of the four categories. The methodology can be reviewed here.

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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