Changes to the QS World University Rankings Methodology | Top Universities

Changes to the QS World University Rankings Methodology

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Laura Bridgestock

Updated Mar 05, 2016



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In its 12th edition this year, the QS World University Rankings® is adding a new element to its methodology, with the aim of providing a fairer comparison of universities’ research impact.

The methodology refinements being introduced relate to the “citations per faculty” indicator, which comprises 20% of the overall ranking score awarded to institutions. Assessed using data from Scopus, the world’s largest database of research abstracts and citations, this ranking component aims to reflect the influence achieved by each university in the research world, relative to the size of its faculty.

Why is change necessary?

Assessing research citations tends to give an advantage to institutions which are particularly strong in fields such as life sciences and natural sciences, where average citation rates are much higher than the overall norm. At the other end of the spectrum, a typical piece of research within the arts or humanities is likely to result in far fewer citations, with these fields accounting for only around 1% of all global citations. As a result, institutions publishing more papers in high-citation fields inevitably attain stronger scores when assessing citations per faculty member.

What changes are being made?

In order to balance out this effect, and as part of its commitment to continually improving the comparisons it provides, QS last year announced a consultation on potential refinements to the research citations indicator. Following positive feedback from the QS Global Academic Advisory Board and independent experts, the decision was made to introduce a normalized total citation count, in order to take account of different norms for each faculty area. You can find out more about the changes here and access the full technical explanation here.

How will this affect the overall results?

The refinements should mean universities which have previously been advantaged – those which are very strong in life sciences and natural sciences – may now rank slightly lower than in previous years. Conversely, institutions which are all-rounders or have strengths in the social sciences, arts and humanities, and engineering and technology, may place higher than previously as the former bias is balanced out.

However, it should be noted that citations per faculty is just one of six performance indicators used to assess universities, so changes to the methodology will by no means account for all changes in position. As happens every year, universities will also move up or down in the ranking table due to other alterations in their performance.    

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