The tenth edition of the QS World University Rankings confirms the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the global leader in higher education. But perhaps more importantly, the data published this week demonstrate the global appetite for the exercise and its maturity.
More academics and employers than ever have participated in the polling that is at the heart of the new rankings. And the results are the most stable since the first rankings were published in 2005.
Both characteristics take on extra importance because students are continuing to gravitate towards the universities at the top of the rankings. This year’s top 100 have almost 9 per cent more international students than last year. Even in an era of continuing rapid growth in higher education around the world, increases on such a scale suggest that students are placing a premium on quality and universities are happy to respond.
MIT is top for the second year in a row. It also heads the faculty-level ranking for engineering and technology and is second in the natural sciences. In the subject rankings published by QS in May, MIT topped seven of the 30 tables.
Harvard, which topped the QS ranking for the first six years in which they were published, has moved back into second place at the expense of Cambridge. Harvard was the most successful university in May’s subject rankings, topping ten of the tables, and leads today in the life sciences and medicine, and the social sciences and management.
However, UK universities still register a strong performance in the 2013-14 rankings, filling four of the top six places. University College London and Imperial College London join Oxford in the leading group, with Edinburgh and King’s College London also appearing in the top 20.
The institutional ranking continues to be more stable every year, with only one university dropping out of the top 50 and four leaving the top 100. The volatility of some international rankings has been a frequent source of criticism, but the average movement in the top 100 is less than 3.5 places, down from 4.6 last year.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, the founder and Managing Director of QS, said: “The extra stability in this year’s rankings will be good news for the countless students across the world who rely on them to narrow down their choices. As more and more people compete for places at the top universities, it is the responsibility of ranking organisations to ensure that what they produce is transparent and accurate. As the only global ranking to have been accredited by the International Ranking Expert Group, we think we are living up to that.”
American universities continue to dominate the top of the rankings, taking more than half of the leading 20 places, but there is much greater diversity beyond that. They represent less than a third of the top 100 and exactly a quarter of the top 200. Thirteen of the 19 US universities in the top 50 have gone down this year, albeit only by a single place in many cases.
Stanford, by contrast, has produced the biggest rise of any university at the top of the ranking, moving up from 15th to seventh. But big budget cuts at state universities since the 2008 recession may be having an impact: of the 84 US institutions in the top 400, a total of 27 have improved their positions this year, while 52 have dropped.
As usual, the UK is second only to the US in the number of highly-ranked universities. Like last year, it has 19 in the top 100 and 30 in the top 200. Despite each dropping one place in the institutional ranking, Oxford is placed top for the arts and humanities, while Cambridge is the leader in the natural sciences.
The published rankings include classifications to enable readers to choose between universities of different sizes, ages and degrees of specialization. The California Institute of Technology is the leading small university, for example, while the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is the youngest institution in the top 40.
The new rankings are also the most extensive yet published by QS. The top 400 universities now have individual positions, while another 400 appear in bands of 50.