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Find the Top Universities in the World for Your Subject

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The new edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject, released today, highlights the 200 top universities the world for 30 individual subjects. Published annually, the ranking is based on data collected for the overall QS World University Rankings®, broken down to provide insights into the strongest performing institutions in specific subject areas. For the 2014 edition, this meant drawing on 90,000 survey responses, 27 million research paper attributions, and almost 11,000 individually verified programs.

This year, a total of 689 institutions are ranked among the 200 top universities in the world for at least one subject, while 65 make at least one top 10. Like last year, Massachusetts neighbors Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) emerge as the two clear leaders, accounting for 20 of the 30 number one spots between them – 11 held by Harvard and 9 by MIT.

Top universities for medicine & life sciences

Among the top universities for medicine and life sciences, Harvard shines particularly strong; it ranks as the world’s number one for medicine, pharmacy and pharmacology, psychology and biological sciences. UK universities also have a strong representation in this field; the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are joined at the top of the rankings tables by London-based institutions King’s, UCL and Imperial, while the Universities of Manchester and Nottingham both feature in the top 10 for pharmacy.

Stanford is also close to the top in all of these subjects, and in general the top 10s are dominated almost entirely by US and UK universities. Exceptions to this are Australia’s Monash University (8th for pharmacy) and University of Melbourne (10= for psychology), Sweden’s Karolinska Institute (7th for pharmacy) and Switzerland’s ETH Zurich (10th for biological sciences).

A rather different set of names appears in the fifth subject included in the life sciences group, agriculture and forestry, which was added to the QS World University Rankings by Subject for the first time last year. This specialized field is dominated at the top by large public US universities, with the notable interruption of the Netherlands’ Wageningen University in second place.

Top universities for medicine & life sciences, 2014

Medicine Biological sciences Psychology Pharmacy & pharmacology Agriculture & forestry
Harvard University Harvard University Harvard University Harvard University University of California, Davis
University of Oxford University of Cambridge University of Cambridge University of Oxford Wageningen University
University of Cambridge Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) University of Oxford King's College London University of Wisconsin-Madison
Stanford University University of Oxford Stanford University UCL (University College London) Cornell University
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Stanford University Yale University University of Manchester Iowa State University

Top universities for engineering & technology

If Harvard rules the medicine and life sciences rankings, then MIT is the undisputed table-topper when it comes to the world’s top universities for engineering and technology subjects; it ranks number one for all five disciplines covered. Also particularly strong here are Stanford University, University of Cambridge, and University of California, Berkeley.

Beyond the US and UK, Switzerland’s ETH Zurich cements its strong position in the technology spectrum, while Asian universities also have a very strong presence among the top universities for engineering and technology. The National University of Singapore makes the top 10 for all five subjects, and Japan’s University of Tokyo also does consistently well. Asian universities account for 10 of the top 30 universities in the rankings for chemical, civil and electrical engineering and eight in mechanical engineering, while Hong Kong alone has three entries in the top 20 for computer science.

Top universities for engineering & technology, 2014

Electrical engineering Mechanical engineering Civil & structural engineering Chemical engineering Computer science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Stanford University Stanford University University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of California, Berkeley Stanford University
University of California, Berkeley University of Cambridge University of California, Berkeley Stanford University Carnegie Mellon University
University of Cambridge University of California, Berkeley University of Tokyo University of Cambridge University of Cambridge
ETH Zurich University of Michigan University of Cambridge National University of Singapore (NUS) Harvard University

Top universities for natural sciences

Next, a look at the top universities in the world for natural sciences, for which the QS World University Rankings by Subject provides six ranking tables: mathematics, physics and astronomy, environmental sciences, Earth and marine sciences, chemistry and materials sciences.

Here, MIT and Harvard once again claim nearly all the top spots, though the public University of California, Berkeley comes first for environmental sciences. Many of the big-name US and UK universities are again strong performers here; Stanford, Berkeley, Oxford and Cambridge all do well across the natural sciences group.

A rare top-five appearance from outside the US and UK occurs in environmental sciences, where Switzerland’s ETH Zurich is ranked joint 3rd (alongside Cambridge). The Netherlands also does well in this discipline – with Wageningen University at 8th and two more Dutch universities in the top 20 – as does Australia; the University of Queensland, University of Melbourne and Australian National University (ANU) are ranked 11th, 12th and 13th.

Singapore has a particularly strong showing in materials science, where the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University both make the top 10, with a further five Asian institutions within the top 20. Meanwhile physics sees several strong performances from continental European institutions, with the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology both in the top 20, along with Germany’s Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Technische Universität München.

Top universities for natural sciences, 2014

Mathematics Physics & astronomy Chemistry Materials sciences Earth & marine sciences Environmental sciences
Harvard University Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) MIT MIT Harvard University University of California, Berkeley
MIT Harvard University University of California, Berkeley Stanford University University of Cambridge Harvard University
University of Oxford University of Cambridge University of Cambridge University of Cambridge University of California, Berkeley ETH Zurich
University of California, Berkeley Stanford University Harvard University Imperial College London California Institute of Technology (Caltech) University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge University of California, Berkeley Stanford University University of California, Berkeley MIT Stanford University

Top universities for social sciences

The QS World University Rankings by Subject includes rankings tables for eight social sciences subjects: law, sociology, statistics, economics, education, accounting and finance, communication and media studies, and politics and international studies (not all shown in the table below).

Harvard is again the dominant institution in the social sciences, topping the tables for accounting and finance, law, economics, politics and sociology. However, there are also some less familiar names at the top of the tables in this category, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison topping the table for communication and media studies, and the UK’s Institute of Education ranking number one in its specialist subject, education.

The specialist London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is among the top universities in the world in the social sciences group; LSE is ranked within the global top three for communication and media studies, accounting & finance, economics and politics and international studies.

Accounting and finance sees two top-10 entries for Australia, the University of Melbourne and University of New South Wales, with the University of Sydney not far behind in 13th place. Politics and international studies is also a relatively strong field for Australian universities, with ANU ranked 7th, and this is likewise the strongest area for France’s specialist Sciences Po.

Top universities for social sciences, 2014

Law Economics Accounting & finance Politics & international studies
Harvard University Harvard University Harvard University Harvard University
University of Oxford Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) University of Oxford University of Oxford
University of Cambridge London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Yale University Stanford University University of Cambridge Princeton University
New York University (NYU) University of California, Berkeley Stanford University Yale University

Top universities for arts & humanities

Finally, the QS World University Rankings by Subject provides rankings of the top universities in the world for six arts and humanities subjects: philosophy, modern languages, English language and literature, geography, history and linguistics.

The University of Oxford is the world’s top-performing arts and humanities institution overall, coming top in three of the six rankings, second for two more and fourth for the sixth – and in general, UK universities rank well in these subjects. LSE is again a strong performer, especially in geography – where six of the top 10 spots are claimed by UK institutions. It’s worth noting that dedicated ‘geography’ programs are less common in the US, where the subject is often incorporated into other areas of the humanities and social sciences.

While Oxbridge and the Ivy League somewhat dominate the top of the English language and literature ranking, philosophy throws up a more diverse selection of leaders. New York University (NYU) comes top here, with the University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers also in the top five.

Top universities for arts & humanities, 2014

English language & literature Modern languages Philosophy History
University of Oxford University of Oxford New York University (NYU) University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge University of Cambridge University of Oxford University of Oxford
Harvard University Harvard University University of Pittsburgh Harvard University
Yale University University of California, Berkeley Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick Yale University
University of California, Berkeley Stanford University University of Cambridge Princeton University

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

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6 Comments

Hey! I couldn't find the ranking list for universities for a graduate programme in Architecture. Please share the link.

Hi Mounika. I'm afraid we don't currently have a ranking specifically for architecture. I'd suggest starting from the ranking for civil & structural engineering as a starting point: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2014/engineering-civil-structural

how can i get the list for the top universities in geophysics or petrophysics or the two if possible.

Hi Ikechi. Our ranking of the world's top universities for Earth & marine science is here: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2014/earth-marine-sciences
This is probably the closest match for your areas of interest.

The website is not at all user friendly. I have been unable to get the complete list of top univerisies for computer science. It is a shame that such an important website does not work properly

Hi Shripada. Really sorry to hear you've been having problems, but thanks for letting us know. The computer science ranking is here: https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2014/computer-science-information-systems

Please let us know if you're still having problems.