BRICS Countries in the QS World University Rankings | Top Universities

BRICS Countries in the QS World University Rankings

By Jane Playdon

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

How competitive are the BRICS countries in higher education? Jane Playdon takes a look at the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014, analyzing BRICS universities’ progress, and the key educational strengths of each country.

The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are five of the world’s fastest growing economies. When the chief economist for Goldman Sachs, Jim O’Neill, coined the BRIC acronym in 2001 (before South Africa was added), he predicted that they would overtake the six largest western economies by 2041.

Last November, Christian Deseglise, co-director of Columbia University’s BRICLab and Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs, spoke at a conference called BRICS: The Quest for Global Growth. Deseglise said the BRICS countries have contributed 31% to global nominal growth since 2001, almost double their contribution of 17% in the previous decade, and since 2008, that contribution has been 55%.

But, according to fellow co-director and Adjunct Associate Professor of International and Public Affairs, Marcos Troyjo, that change has been driven by comparative advantages, and will need to be based on more competitive advantages in future.

So, how competitive are the BRICS countries in higher education, and what progress have their universities made over the past five years?

Top 10 BRICS Universities in the QS World University Rankings

2013 Rankings

2009 Rankings

Peking University


Tsinghua University


Tsinghua University


Peking University


Fudan University


Lomonosov Moscow State University


Lomonosov Moscow State University


Fudan University


Shanghai Jiao Tong University


University of Cape Town


Universidade de São Paulo (USP)


Shanghai Jiao Tong University


University of Cape Town


University of Science and Technology of China



Zhejiang University


Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB)



University of Science and Technology of China


Saint-Petersburg State University


Nanjing University


Nanjing University


This year’s QS World University Rankings cover 800 universities around the world, and by definition deal only with top-performing institutions. The overall number of ranking BRICS universities this year (83) is roughly 10% of the total institutions featured, compared with 2009, when 44 institutions represented almost 7% of the total.

Among the BRICS countries, China remains dominant in the university rankings. This reflects points made by Martin Carnoy, a professor of education at Stanford University, about an increasing trend for differentiation amongst BRICS institutions. According to Carnoy, the gap between the elite universities, which are often public, and the mass institutions, which are often private, is growing. BRICS governments are putting more money into elite institutions, and this is particularly true in China, where top institutions receive twice as much funding per pupil.

All of the ranking BRICS universities this year, except for two in Brazil (Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro and Pontificia Universidade Católica de São Paulo), are public.

Number of ranking BRICS universities since 2009








+ 12




+ 15




+ 10




-  1

South Africa



+ 3

Universities in Brazil: Strong academic reputation

Brazil came third in the world for number of new institutions added to the rankings this year, and it has also added the most number of new institutions since 2009 among the BRICS (15). Universities in Brazil score particularly well in the area of academic reputation (assessed by QS via a large global survey of academics, who give their opinions on the institutions producing the best research in their field), with the country’s highest score for this being 51 in the world, for the Universidade de São Paulo (USP).

Out of the 12 universities in Brazil that were ranked last year, seven improved their academic reputation this year, by as much as 61 places in the case of Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.

This continues a trend; in 2012, all but one Brazilian entry showed improvement in academic reputation, with one staying the same. USP again ranked the highest at 65, an improvement of 37 places compared to 2011.

However, since 2011, Brazilian universities have been deteriorating in the areas of citations per faculty (an indication of how influential an institution’s research is), international faculty and international students, which show how international an institution is.

Universities in Russia: Commitment to teaching

Universities in Russia get their highest scores for faculty to student ratio – a measure of number of academic staff employed per student enrolled, which aims to give an indication of universities’ commitment to teaching. Indeed, the majority of ranked universities in Russia are within the world’s top 200 on this indicator.

Russia’s commitment to higher education can also be seen in figures from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competiveness Report 2013-2014, which reports that 75.9% of Russia’s tertiary age population is enrolled in tertiary education. This compares to 26.8% in China, 25.6% in Brazil, 17.9% in India, and 15.4% in South Africa. Russia will be further increasing its spending on select universities this year, with the aim of getting more institutions into the top 100 by 2020.

Out of the 14 Russian universities that can be compared with last year (Russia added four institutions this year), seven improved and three stayed the same on the faculty-student ratio indicator. This is an improvement on the previous year, when eight of the 12 comparable institutions deteriorated on this measure compared to 2011.

The best Russian performer for academic reputation is Bauman Moscow State Technical University, ranked 9th in the world in this area. However, like Brazil since 2011, Russian universities have seen deteriorating scores for citations per faculty, international faculty and international student ratio.

Universities in India: Highly rated by employers

Universities in India get their best scores this year in the area of employer reputation – again, assessed by a major global survey, in which graduate employers identify the universities they believe produce the best graduates.

India’s strongest score here goes to the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), which ranks 65th in the world for employer reputation. All except one of the Indian universities included in the ranks is within the world’s top 400 on this indicator. However, seven of the 11 ranking institutions have deteriorated in this measure, a continuation of the previous year when eight of the 11 ranking institutions saw lower employer reputation compared to 2011.

In a paper published in June, Stanford’s Carnoy said there was no evidence that the gap between elite and mass institutions was increasing in India, and the QS rankings appear to correlate with this. India’s highest ranking institution (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi) does not appear in the top 10 BRICS universities, and the number of ranking Indian institutions has decreased by one since 2009 – while all the other BRICS countries have increased their representation.

A recent analysis of the rankings by The Economic Times into why the Indian Institutes of Technology failed to make it into the top 200 this year suggests the IITs’ own failure to supply sufficient information may be partly to blame. Chairman of Manipal Global Education, T.V. Mohandas Pai, said: “IITs are much better than what the rankings suggest, but they are too arrogant to participate and give data."

Universities in India have shown improvement in terms of citations per faculty. But like Brazil and Russia, their scores for international faculty and students have been getting steadily worse since 2011.

Universities in China: Widening gap?

Universities in China have scored consistently well over the past few years for both academic and employer reputation. The country’s highest academic reputation rank is 19 for Peking University, and its highest employer reputation rank is 20 for Tsinghua University.

But, while the top seven universities in China all improved their citations per faculty score, the rest all deteriorated in this area – perhaps a sign of a widening gap between the very elite and the rest. And, like the other BRICS countries, China’s international faculty and international student ratios have been worsening since 2011.

Universities in South Africa: Strengthening academic reputation

All of South Africa’s ranking institutions have improved their academic reputation since 2011. The University of Cape Town is the country’s top performer overall, and also its strongest rated by academics, currently 142 in the world in the academic reputation survey, up from 169 in 2011. 

However, the QS rankings again show a decline in scores for international students and international faculty at universities in South Africa.

In conclusion, the amount of ranking universities can be seen to correlate roughly with the degree of importance and funding each of the BRICS countries’ governments assigns to their elite versus mass institutions. While each BRICS higher education system has slightly different strengths, they do all have a shared weak point – their relative lack of success in internationalizing their faculty and student bodies.

A new QS ranking dedicated entirely to the BRICS countries is scheduled for launch later this year. Using an adapted methodology to reflect major priorities in these countries, this ranking will facilitate comparison of BRICS universities’ progress in key areas.

This article was originally published in September 2013 . It was last updated in March 2016

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