QS World University Rankings 2011: Environmental Sciences

By Danny Byrne

The first QS subject ranking for Environmental Sciences comes at a time when climate change, sustainable energy and green alternatives are high on the international agenda. The results show that the university research and innovation that underpins environmental policy is global in its reach, with universities from 30 countries making up the top 200.

Harvard’s presence at the top of the table will be no surprise to those who follow international rankings, but the varied and important environmental research carried out at the university provides ample evidence that it has not merely been carried there by general reputation. The Harvard University Centre for the Environment hosts environmental research drawing in interdisciplinary fields from chemistry, earth sciences and engineering to humanities and social sciences. Recent innovations to emerge from the university include a joint project with IBM to utilize idle computers and create a new, cheaper form of solar power.

However, among academics UC Berkeley is the most highly rated university, a clear winner ahead of Cambridge and MIT. Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management comprises over 62 faculty including two Macarthur Fellows, two Guggenheim Fellows and four National Academy of Science Members, while its College of Natural Resources carries out important work to provide “tools to both protect the Earth’s natural resources and ensure economic and ecological sustainability for future generations”.

Australia has a strong history of engagement with environmental politics, and its universities have helped set the standard in the field. ANU makes the world top ten, with University of Melbourne (18), University of Queensland (25), University of Sydney (27) and University of New South Wales (43) joining it in the top 50. A total of 12 Australian universities make the top 200, joined by three institutions from neighboring New Zealand: University of Auckland (35=), University of Canterbury (51-100) and University of Otago (51-100).

University of British Columbia (12=) springs a surprise by outperforming fellow Canadian universities McGill (19) and Toronto (20), though the high ranking of all three institutions highlights the emphasis placed upon the discipline in this environmentally conscious nation. Further national diversity is provided in the top 20 by University of Tokyo (11), ETH Zurich (12=), National University of Singapore (15) and Kyoto University (17). There are 38 Asian universities in the top 200, with Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and South Korea represented in the top 50.

However of all of the Asian universities it is perhaps the performance of Peking University, ranked 22, which will be of most international interest. China has been criticized for its environmental record in the past, but a renewed emphasis on carbon markets was evident in Wen Jiabao’s announcement in 2010 of ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions by 40-45% per unit of GDP by 2020. Research carried out in leading Chinese universities such as Peking and Tsinghua (ranked 41) will undoubtedly be crucial to the achievement of China’s environmental aims.

The leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford take up their customary places in the top ten, and with Cambridge rated second by both academics and employers, and Oxford third and fourth. Other leading UK universities such as Imperial College London, Edinburgh and Manchester feature strongly, while several institutions greatly exceeded their overall rank, demonstrating particular strength in this discipline: University of York (35=), University of Sheffield (39=) and University of Leeds (50).

Elsewhere in Europe there are four continental European universities in the top 50: ETH Zurich (12=), Wageningen University (38), Lund University (39) and Université Grenoble, Joseph Fourier (47). The top 200 also features 12 universities from Germany, seven from The Netherlands, six from Switzerland, five from Sweden, four from Belgium, three apiece from Denmark and Ireland, two apiece from Austria, Italy and Spain, and one each from Finland and Norway.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s University of Cape Town (151-200) and Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (151-200) both appear in the top 200, ensuring that Africa and Latin America are represented and proving that high-quality work in this field is taking place at universities all over the world.

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