QS Stars explained

Students working in a library

When the QS World University Rankings first emerged in 2004, they responded to an urgent need. There was a rapidly growing contingent of internationally mobile students who needed a way to form concrete comparisons of university standards across borders.

Yet rankings have their limitations. Our rankings provide a powerful snapshot of an institution’s academic prowess and global competitiveness, but they only include a small percentage of worldwide universities. What about the thousands of universities whose strengths lie in unassessed areas like teaching, innovation, local engagement? Universities are so diverse, and many strengths are beyond the scope of international rankings.

What is the QS Stars university rating system?

The QS Stars university rating system uses a comprehensive and in-depth framework to rate and compare university performance across a broad range of key criteria. Our rating system is an internationally-recognised mark of quality and is designed to provide valuable insights into areas of strength and weakness, driving best-in-class standards in higher education.

The rating system exists to give students a way of forming impartial, evidence-based comparisons of universities in a greater number of areas than can be covered by rankings. QS Stars is opt-in, meaning an unlimited number of universities can participate.

Universities that take part in a QS Stars assessment receive an overall QS Star rating, and a rating for each of the categories, all out of five.

What are the key categories evaluated by QS Stars?

Teaching – A key role of universities is to nurture its students’ learning and personal development. Universities rated highly in this category are recognized for their dedication to delivering high-quality teaching, fostering student engagement, and maintaining an environment conducive to learning and academic excellence. In this category we consider areas such as the faculty-student ratio, student satisfaction, rate of completion, retention, and further study. 

Employability – Graduate employability depends on more than academic strength, focusing on readiness for work – the ability to working effectively in a multi-cultural team, deliver presentations, and to manage people and projects. Areas like the university’s reputation among employers, the graduate employment rate, employment outcomes and career service support are considered here. 

Research – Research is a core component of many universities, and part of what makes an institution a global leader. This category looks at research productivity, the impact of that research, the amount of funds dedicated to research, and a university’s reputation for research among academics. 

Academic development – In this category we look at a university’s commitment to academic development for its students and faculty beyond teaching. This includes areas such as the number of faculty participating in development programs, development activities available for students and the spendings and innovations related to teaching. 

Good governance – This category evaluates the framework of principles and procedures that guarantee efficient and transparent administration within your university. It assesses if decisions are taken equitably and with transparency, resources are allocated and utilized judiciously, and accountability is maintained at all levels of leadership. Areas considered here are the presence of policies and provisions for sustainability, institutional accreditations, strategy and risk management plans. 

Environmental impact – The Environmental impact category assesses the focus on environmental sustainability in the areas of Operations, Research and Education. We are looking at effective plans and monitoring systems, impactful research that provides solutions for environmental issues and measures to educate and engage the general public and professionals alike. 

Innovation and knowledge transfer – Universities are increasingly under pressure to conduct research and to stay at the edge of the latest technology. Innovation and knowledge transfer are becoming more and more important for modern, progressive institutions. In this category we consider areas such as patents, industrial research, and spin-off companies of the university. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion – The Diversity, equity, and inclusion category reflects a university’s commitment to creating an accessible, supportive, and fair environment, acknowledging the importance of diverse perspectives in the pursuit of academic excellence. This category considers metrics for disability support services, initiatives for underrepresented groups, gender balance among students and staff, and the existence of a strategic framework promoting equality. 

Arts – With governmental and private investment increasingly encouraging higher education institutions to focus on science and technology, universities have to work harder than ever to promote and contribute to the arts and national culture. This category is designed to recognize excellent in these areas, looking at elements such as the number of artistic events available to students and the financial contribution to arts projects.

Facilities – The Facilities category looks at the physical infrastructure of an institution, providing students with insight into the environment they can expect for their university experience. Here we consider indicators such as sporting facilities, student accommodation, and library expenditure. 

Online learning – The Online Learning category is available for institutions which place a primary focus on online delivery or, in some cases, institutions that have residential programs and facilities but also have some programs available entirely online. The objective is to look at a student’s learning environment, but from the perspective of an online student.

Entrepreneurship – This category examines the university’s support system for entrepreneurial endeavours and the university’s commitment to fostering an innovative ecosystem where students and staff are equipped and encouraged to transform ideas into successful ventures. We assess the presence and efficacy of incubators, faculty involvement in active businesses, the track record of student and alumni startups, and the number of entrepreneurship clubs.

Subject rankings – The Subject ranking category identifies an institution’s specialist area by looking at its highest ranked subject area, either at the subject or broader faculty level, as well as the number of national and international accreditations for programs in that subject area. 

Programme strength – The Programme strength category focuses on a university’s ability to showcase the excellence of a specific program it selects from its degree offerings. We examine how competitive and well-regarded this program is, considering its appeal to leading faculty and promising students, as well as its standing and recognition in the wider academic and industry. 

Global engagement – In the interconnected world of higher education, a university’s global reputation is increasingly vital. This category assesses if the university is forging partnerships with international institutions, recruiting a diverse body of international faculty and students, and engaging in cross-border research collaborations.

Social impact – Social impact evaluates the degree to which a university contributes to the social good, measuring its commitment to promoting social equity and engagement with the wider community. This category looks at factors such as the institution’s social impact research, outreach, investments in charity work or human capital development. It also includes the institution’s contribution to reducing inequalities and its impact on public health and well-being.

For students and educators, these categories serve as a beacon, guiding informed decisions and fostering connections with institutions whose qualities align with their aspirations and needs. As a result, the QS Stars system empowers the global academic community with the insights necessary to advance, evolve, and excel in an ever-changing educational landscape.

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