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Top Universities for Physics in 2021

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 3, 2021 Updated March 3, 2021
  • There are 601 schools offering physics programs in this year's subject rankings
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the world's best physics school this year
  • The United States contains the highest number of physics schools in this year's ranking, with 124 programs on offer

The recently released QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 features 601 of the top higher education institutions to study physics and astronomy.

The QS University Rankings by Subject are based on four indicators: academic reputation, employer reputation, research citations per paper and the H-index (a way of measuring the productivity and published work of a scientist or scholar). You can find more details about the methodology behind the subject rankings here.

Read on to learn more about the best physics schools in each region. Alternatively, if you would like to explore the physics schools in further detail, click here to view the full table.

Top 10 Universities for Physics in the World 

Based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021

Rank Name of Institution Location
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
2 Stanford University United States
3 Harvard University United States
4 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
5 University of Oxford United Kingdom
6 University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
7 California Institute of Technology United States
8 Princeton University United States
9 ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) Switzerland
10 The University of Tokyo Japan
See the full ranking for physics

Top universities for physics in the US and Canada

The United States has 124 of the 601 top physics universities in the world. Of these, six can be found in the world top ten, including the world leader Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT is the top US institution in terms of research output, accounting for around five percent of the US’s total contribution to papers in the field, as indexed by our research partners at Elsevier. 

Outside of the top 10, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA, 12th) rises seven places this year. Meanwhile, Yale University falls three places to joint 16th and Columbia University drops four places to joint 18th. All of these universities scored highly in the research citations per paper indicator, representing the quality of the schools’ research. Elsevier found that US universities are tackling big-impact topics with their research, including renewable energy, innovative materials, and the ongoing pursuit to understand the planet and universe.

Canada is home to 19 universities offering physics courses; two of which are located in the world top 50: University of Toronto (joint 26th, falling five places) and University of British Columbia (49th, rising eight positions).

Top universities for physics in Europe

238 of the world’s top universities to study physics can be found in Europe. Of these, 37 are in the United Kingdom . The University of Cambridge and University of Oxford both feature in the global top 10, in fourth and fifth place respectively.

Other notable UK universities include University College London (UCL, down three places this year to joint 31st), the University of Manchester (falling four places to joint 41st) and University of Edinburgh (dropping five places to joint 45th).

Germany is well known for its focus on sciences and is the third largest contributor of Nobel laureates in physics. Germany has 41 universities featuring in the physics and astronomy rankings this year, with three of these in the top 50. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München is Germany’s highest ranked university for physics in 2021 in joint 22nd.

Italy is home to 25 top universities to study physics and astronomy, including top-ranking Sapienza - Università di Roma in joint 41st. France also performs well with 22 entries this year, including three in the top 50, with Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) rising six places to joint 31st.

Russia has 17 physics universities, with Lomonosov Moscow State University (joint 29th) the only Russian university in the global top 50. Where we can see some room for improvement in Russia is in their levels of collaboration in answering the big questions in physics. Only 28 percent of Russia’s research is the result of a global collaboration compared with the US’s 40 percent, Germany’s 62 percent and the UK’s 70 percent, Elsevier found.

Spain has 14 universities in the rankings this year and the Netherlands has nine, with Delft University of Technology rising seven places to joint 42nd place.

Poland and Switzerland each have six universities in the physics school rankings. Of these, the top ranking is ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ninth). Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) also places in the top 20, in 14th.

Top universities for physics in Australia and New Zealand

Australia has an impressive 17 universities in this year’s physics school rankings and New Zealand has five.

Australia’s top 50 placing university is Australian National University (ANU, 40th), earning a high score for research citations per paper. Another notable university is the University of Melbourne in joint 66th, earning an admirable score in the employer reputation indicator.

Over in New Zealand the University of Auckland places the highest in 151-200, scoring well in the employer reputation indicator.

Top universities for physics in Asia

135 of the world’s best physics schools are found in Asia . Of these, an incredible 40 are located in Mainland China . The top ranking Chinese university this year is Tsinghua University (13th), earning an incredibly high score in the H-Index and the research citations per paper indicators. China outputs the highest number of papers in Physics and Astronomy globally, accounting for over a quarter of the world’s papers in the subject over the past 5 years, as indexed by our research partners at Elsevier.

Ranking in the top 50 is Tsinghua University (13th), Peking University (21st), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (joint 43rd) and Fudan University (48th).

Japan also performs well in this year’s rankings, with 22 universities featured this year, including the top ranking University of Tokyo in 10th, earning a near-perfect score for academic reputation.

South Korea has 22 universities in this year’s rankings, including new entrant, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (351-400). South Korea’s highest ranking physics school this year is Seoul National University (SNU, 36th)

Bangladesh and Vietnam each have one ranked physics school this year, whereas Indonesia , Thailand , Singapore and Kazakhstan each have two. Indonesia’s one new entry this year is University of Indonesia (551-600). Both of Singapore’s ranked universities appear in the world top 50; National University of Singapore ( NUS, rising nine places this year to 15th) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU, climbing 11 places to 20th).

India sees 17 institutions in our subject rankings for physics and astronomy, yet none of these are in the top 100. India’s top-ranking physics university in joint 103rd place is Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB).

Taiwan also performs well, with nine universities featuring in the rankings for physics. Its National Taiwan University (NTU) features in the world top 100 in joint 59th. Hong Kong ’s six universities include the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST, rising ten places to 47th).

Top universities for physics in Latin America     

Latin America is home to 22 universities offering physics programs this year. The highest ranking university for physics in Latin America this year is found in Brazil, with Universidade de São Paulo (USP) ranking joint 90th in the world. Eight other top physics programmes can be found in Brazil.

There are six top physics universities in Chile, including Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in 114th. Peru and Puerto Rico each have a single entry in the ranking this year.

Mexico contains six top universities to study physics, including Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in joint 103rd place. UNAM scores particularly well in the employer reputation indicator.

Argentina’ s three universities include one in the world top 150: Universidad de Buenos Aires (127th), which scores well in both the employer reputation indicator and the research citations per paper indicator. Columbia is also home to two physics universities.

Top universities for physics in Africa and the Middle East

In Africa there are seven physics schools in the ranking this year, including two from Egypt; Cairo University (351-400) and Ain Shams University (451-500). South Africa contains five top physics universities, with University of Cape Town the highest ranked, in 201-250.

Meanwhile over in the Middle East, there are 12 universities in this year’s subject ranking for physics. Of these, three are from Iran, five are from Israel and five are located in Saudi Arabia . Israel’s top physics schools, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology and Weizmann Institute of Science, both rank 151-200 this year.

This article was originally published in March 2021 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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