2011 QS World University Rankings® by Subject: Social Sciences

by Danny Byrne

The QS World University Rankings® for Social Sciences completes the first comprehensive set of international rankings at subject level, with 26 disciplines now covered in total. The final batch covers some of the most popular undergraduate degree subjects, many of which have a direct connection to the world of work: Accounting and Finance, Economics, Law, Politics and International Studies, Statistics and Operational Research, and Sociology.

As in the other QS World University Rankings® by Subject, the rankings are based on academic reputation, employer reputation, and research citations. Given the professional application of subjects such as Law and Economics, and the relative lack of published research in journals in comparison to other discipline, employer opinion has been given a significant emphasis in the weightings of the social sciences rankings. The results confirmed that employers have a particular interest in social sciences graduates; the most sought-after graduates among global employers were those in Business, Engineering, Accountancy and Finance, and Economics, two of which fall within the social sciences.

Within the social sciences, employers demonstrated their high regard for London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE), and the results suggest that the university can hold its own with Oxford and Cambridge in the areas in which it specializes. The university’s applied emphasis is obviously successful in producing work-ready graduates, as LSE was ranked in the top five by employers in four of the six Social Sciences subjects. The university ranks in the top ten overall in five of the six subjects, with particular strengths coming in Politics and Economics, in which it ranks 4th.

However, the dominant force at the top of the tables is again Harvard University, which ranks 1st in five of the six subjects, takes its total table topping performance in the 2011 QS World University Rankings® by Subject to a remarkable 16 of the 26 disciplines. The only exception to the Harvard whitewash was Statistics and Operational Research, which is topped by Stanford University. This brings the number of universities that rank first in one of the 26 subjects to five: Harvard (17), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6), Cambridge (2), with Oxford and Stanford top in one subject each.

As in the majority of subjects, strong performances come from Oxford and Cambridge, which have demonstrated their strength across the subject range with consistent top ten rankings in the programs in which they are active. Among employers, Oxford was the most highly regarded university for Law, an achievement Cambridge equalled in Sociology. A clear Oxbridge and LSE hierarchy emerged in the UK, though top ten performances also came from Imperial College London (9th in Statistics, the only Social Sciences discipline in which it operates), and London Business School, which ranks 10th for Accounting and Finance.

In the US, as well as the big names such as Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley that have performed strongly across the board, institutions highlight specialist strengths in these areas. Columbia makes the top ten in Sociology, Politics and Law, in which it is joined in the top ten by neighbouring institution NYU, and University of Pennsylvania makes the top ten for Accounting and Finance. Other notable US performances come from UCLA and Chicago, while MIT makes the top five in three disciplines.

The US/UK stranglehold in the top spots is broken by some strong performances from Asia, Canada and Australia. National University of Singapore ranks 7th for Statistics, just ahead of the University of Toronto in 8th, while University of Melbourne ranks 9th for Law and Australia National University ranks 10th for Politics. University of Melbourne stakes a claim as Australia’s leading university in the Social Sciences, ranking first nationally in four tables to ANU’s two.

In continental Europe, the leading universities are ETH Zurich (Statistics, 13th), University of Amsterdam (Sociology, 33rd), University of Copenhagen (Politics, 34th), Universita di Bologna (Law, 32nd), and Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi, which leads in both Economics (29=), and Accountancy and Finance (26th).

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