Shift to S&T, mobility growth influence new QS ranking

A global shift towards science and technology and rapid growth in international student mobility are trends impacting on the standing of the world’s finest universities, according to the 2012-13 QS rankings. Universities from a record 72 countries are in the top 700 list published last week.

The top 100 universities average nearly 10% more international students this year than in 2011, “the biggest single-year increase in the rankings’ nine-year history”, according to the latest World University Rankings.

“The unprecedented acceleration in international recruitment reflects an escalating global battle for talent: 120,000 more international students were reported by the top 500 universities this year,” said head of research Ben Sowter in a statement.

“The total number of international students now exceeds 4.1 million globally.”

Best of the best

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, in the US has overtaken Cambridge University in the UK to clinch the top slot for the first time. Cambridge slipped into second place followed by Harvard.

The other universities in the top 10 are, in order, University College London (up from seven in 2011), Oxford, Imperial College London, Yale (down from four), Chicago, Princeton (up from 13) and California Institute of Technology, Caltech (up from 12).

Two institutions – Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania – have fallen out of the top 10 since last year.

In a background article on the 2012-13 rankings, QS academic advisory board member and former Times Higher Education editor, John O’Leary, wrote that this year’s rankings are notable for the influence of the “seemingly unstoppable rise” of global student mobility.

“Even those universities recording a modest increase, or simply maintaining their previous recruitment, are being overtaken on this measure,” said O’Leary.

“Cambridge, for example, has seen a significant increase in international students, but has dropped five places in this measure, contributing to its fall from first to second place in the overall ranking.”

MIT was also powered to the top, according to QS, by its high citation rates, its academic-staff ratio, and an increase in international faculty.

“The rise of MIT coincides with a global shift in emphasis toward science and technology”, said Sowter in the statement. “MIT perfects a blueprint that is now being followed by a new wave of cutting-edge tech-focused institutions, especially in Asia”.

Nine of the top 10 technology-focused universities improved their positions, including MIT (1), Imperial College (6), Caltech (10) and ETH Zurich (13).

“Korea’s KAIST (63) is the biggest riser in the top 100, while Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (33) and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (47) continue their rapid ascent. Both were founded in the last 21 years,” said QS.

Other notable developments

Europe has the highest number of universities in the QS top 100 – 39 out of 100 including 18 in the UK, 20 in continental Europe and one in Ireland.

Continental Europe is led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), which rose from 18 in 2011 to 13 this year, followed by Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (29), which is up six places. France’s top nine universities all fell in the rankings and Trinity College Dublin is the only Irish university in the top 100.

Six of Germany’s top 10 universities gained ground compared to 2011, said Danny Byrne, editor of “However, with no German university in the top 50, the results may reignite the debate over the effectiveness of the Excellence Initiative.

“Some 14 of the top 20 German institutions rank lower for research citations than in 2011, including all of the top four.”

North America follows with a third of all institutions in the top 100, 21 in the United States and three in Canada – and it dominates the top 20 with 12 US and two Canadian institutions, including McGill (18) and Toronto (19), up four places.

America claims 130 of the world’s top 700 universities.

There are 19 Asian universities in the top 100 including three in the top 30: Hong Kong University (23), the National University of Singapore (25) and Tokyo (30). Two mainland Chinese universities are in the top 50 – Peking (44) and Tsinghua (48) – and another five in the top 200. QS points out that there is still no Indian university in the top 200.

Australia has seven universities in the top 100, with Australian National University rising two places to 24 and widening the gap on Melbourne, which fell five places to 36.

Universities in the Middle East performed better than before, with the top six all improving their positions, led by King Saud at 197. The region now has 23 universities in the top 700.

Latin America is led by the University of São Paulo (139) followed by Mexico’s UNAM (146).

The University of Cape Town remains Africa’s top institution, at position 154.

QS over the years

QS academic advisory board member Martin Ince looked at the QS rankings over the nine years since they began in 2004, and noted in an article that the biggest loser was the University of California at Berkeley.

But this did “little to reduce the dominance of California, the Northeastern US and South East England at the top of these rankings”. Seven of the top 10 universities in 2004 had retained this status.

The rankings for 2004 provided an analysis of just 200 universities, while it now provides information on more than 700.

The rankings use various measures, the most talked-about being the academic survey. In the first year, 1,300 academics were surveyed; this year the rankings drew on 46,000 respondents. The survey has grown in numbers and questions, wrote Ince, and today it “asks more questions, about national as well as local favourites and about detailed subject areas”.

The QS survey of employers began in 2005 and has also grown, with data this year from more than 25,000 people active in graduate recruitment.

Another four indicators add up to half of the potential score for each university: academic citations over five years, number of citations per academic staff member, international staff and student numbers, and staff-student ratios.