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World University Ranking Methodologies Compared

World University Ranking Methodologies Compared main image

There are multiple world university rankings available – with the best-known being the QS World University Rankings®, Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) – and each one uses a different methodology. This can sometimes be confusing, as it’s not always easy to see why a university is ranked differently, or why the order within a country changes depending on which table you view.

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To clarify how these different outcomes are reached, below is an overview of the methodologies used for these three major world university rankings…

QS World University Rankings®

The QS World University Rankings assesses universities on six performance indicators, relating to research, teaching, employability and internationalization. To be eligible for inclusion, institutions must teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and conduct work in at least two of five broad faculty areas (arts and humanities; engineering and technology; social sciences and management; natural sciences; life sciences and medicine).

  • Academic reputation (worth 40% of the overall score)
    Based on a global survey of academics, who are asked to identify the leading institutions in their field.
  • Employer reputation (10%)
    Based on a global survey of graduate employers, who are asked to identify the institutions producing the best graduates in their sector.
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%)
    An indication of commitment to high-quality teaching and support.
  • Research citations per faculty member (20%)
    This is normalized by subject area, and reflects the impact of an institution’s research.
  • Proportion of international faculty (5%)
    A measure of an institution’s success in attracting faculty from overseas.
  • Proportion of international students (5%)
    A measure of an institution’s success in attracting students from overseas.

The interactive results table can be filtered to show the scores for each of these six indicators, showing where each institution’s comparative strengths and weaknesses lie. You can find out more about the QS World University Rankings methodology here.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings uses 13 performance indicators, grouped into five categories. Institutions are excluded if they do not teach at undergraduate level, or if their research output is below a certain threshold.

  • Teaching (worth 30% of the overall score)
    Based on a reputation survey (15%), staff-to-student ratio (4.5%), doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio (2.25%), doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio (6%) and institutional income (2.25%).
  • Research (30%)
    Based on a reputation survey (18%), research income (6%) and research papers published per faculty member (6%).
  • Research citations (30%)
    Based on the number of citations a university’s research obtains, normalized by subject area.
  • International outlook (7.5%)
    Based on international-to-domestic-student ratio (2.5%), international-to-domestic-staff ratio (2.5%) and international research collaborations (2.5%).
  • Industry income (2.5%)
    Based on income earned from industry, relative to the number of academic staff employed, and adjusted for PPP.

The published results can be sorted to show universities’ scores for each of the five categories, but not for the individual indicators within each category.

Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

Also widely known as the Shanghai Ranking, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) assesses six performance indicators, all relating to research excellence. The ranking considers all institutions with Nobel Laureates, Fields Medalists, highly cited researchers, papers published in Nature or Science, or a significant number of papers indexed by the Science Citation Index-Expanded (SCIE) or Social Science Citation Index (SSCI).

  • Alumni (worth 10% of the overall score)
    Based on the number of alumni of an institution who have won Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, with greater weight given to more recent recipients.
  • Awards (20%)
    Based on the number of staff affiliated with an institution who have won Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics, and Fields Medals in mathematics, with greater weight given to more recent recipients.
  • Highly cited researchers (20%)
    Based on an institution’s number of highly cited researchers, according to the latest list published by Thomson Reuters.
  • Papers in Nature and Science (20%)
    Based on the number of papers published in these two influential journals, drawing on a four-year period. For institutions specialized in social sciences and humanities, this category does not apply.
  • Papers indexed (20%)
    Based on the number of papers indexed in the Science Citation Index-Expanded and Social Science Citation Index in the preceding calendar year, with a double weighting for papers indexed in the Social Science Citation Index.
  • Per capita performance (10%)
    The weighted scores of the other indicators, divided by the number of full-time equivalent academic staff.

The published ARWU results can be sorted to show performance in each of these six indicators.

Got more questions about any of these world university rankings? Take a look at our frequently asked questions, or ask your own in the comments below.

This article was updated in June 2017.

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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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Hello, Coming from a Indian Institute , I must say Times Higher Education World University Rankings provide a more detailed picture of the Indian Universities that the other ranking systems. In Indian psyche and the world outside India, brand IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) overshadow every other Institute. Brand IITs (currently 23) had its Bachelor of Technology students mostly moved into US and other European universities for MS-PhD for the last five decades and proved their mettle, earned good reputation. On the contrary, Institutes like Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) groups which are way ahead of IITs in terms of research and academics didn't have an Undergraduate discipline. It has started very recently. Also there is one IISc as a stark contrast to 23 IITs. So even if IISc does extremely good work in research, there are high chances that people abroad will end up confusing IISc with another IIT driven by the psyche that good research in India comes from IITs. As a result of this unequal scenario of academic reputation, not just IISc or TIFR, there are plenty of other universities which are often underrepresented when academic reputation is given the maximum weightage . I hope QS rankings will take this problem into account and change their metrics accordingly- otherwise the rankings are very misleading in Indian context.