Introducing the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014 | Top Universities

Introducing the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014

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Guest Writer

Updated Apr 18, 2021



Introducing the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014 main image

Guest writer: Ben Sowter, head of QS Intelligence Unit

The last decade has been a rollercoaster ride. Since they were first published in 2004, the QS World University Rankings® have captured the imagination of prospective students, ranked and non-ranked institutions, policymakers, governments and the public at large. In that time, we have also seen a revolution in the typical capability of institutions to gather data and evaluate their own performance.

On the other hand, decisions and actions taken on the strength of league tables alone sometimes seem to be disproportionate to the implications of the results. And even as university rankings have become more established and their novelty value has diminished, they have nonetheless lost none of their ability to stir up the most impassioned debate. What is it about a simple ranking table that makes it so compelling?



The appeal of university league tables

Ultimately the popularity of rankings speaks to the way the mind works. As Umberto Eco has written, “The list is the origin of culture. How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists.”

Universities are diverse and complex organizations that are integrated into the very fabric of the nations, societies, communities and economies in which they operate. The distillation of their value into a single number is, from one point of view, nonsensical; but from another, this very complexity is what makes a simple comparative assessment such a necessity.

The absence of an absolute truth ensures the inherently controversial nature of the rankings. Argument and debate ensues between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and recruit, government and university president about which institutions are actually better, and which university league tables do a better job of reflecting the facts as they see them.

George Box once wrote, “Essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful.” So maybe we should caution all of the above listed combatants to cool it: in a sense, you’re all as wrong as each other.

The responsibilities and challenges of ranking universities

Nonetheless, QS takes the responsibilities of ranking universities extremely seriously, recognizing that no matter how hard we try, it is likely that some people will use our work in ways we wouldn’t independently advocate if consulted. We strive hard each year to make the results still more robust and accurate and have put substantial emphasis on drilling down to a discipline level and adding institutions to our main university ranking in order to increase its relevance and precision. And the hard work is beginning to pay off in terms of external reference and recognition.

In the last few months our work has been referenced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for their Sea Turtles Index, and INSEAD, Cornell and WIPO for their Global Innovation Index. Our various evaluations have been scrutinized in the EUA’s second report on university rankings, and all of our institution rankings have successfully been through an external audit at the hands of IREG. Such recognition has been particularly gratifying.

From a personal standpoint however, perhaps the most rewarding moment of the past few years was returning to my alma mater, the University of Nottingham, to find its inclusion in the top 75 in our rankings proudly declared at each of the entrances to its various campuses.

Perhaps the biggest development in this year’s results is the inclusion of more than 100 new institutions. With 800 universities now featured, the rankings can claim to cover the top 4% of the world’s universities. Among them are the probable origins of much of mankind’s most influential future creative, technological and medical advances. Dazzling, infuriating, complex, inefficient, brilliant, chaotic and inspiring all at the same time, every one of them is a privileged place to be.