Continental Europe on rise in new QS university ranking

Switzerland is leading a “period of resurgence” for universities in Continental Europe, in the QS World University Rankings published last week. Institutions in Denmark, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Norway also improved their positions in the 2013-14 ranking.

But overall the ranking continues to be “extremely stable”, according to John O’Leary, an executive member of the QS Global Academic Advisory Board: only one university dropped out of the top 50 and four exited the top 100.

“The volatility of some international university rankings has been a frequent source of criticism, but in the QS World University Rankings for 2013-14 the average movement among the top 100 universities is less than 3.5 places, down from 4.6 last year,” O’Leary wrote in an overview of this year’s rating exercise.

Top positions

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, retained its number one position in the top 10. Harvard came second, switching its 2012 place with Cambridge, which came third this year. University College London stayed in fourth place, while Imperial College London and Oxford also switched places, coming in at number five and six respectively.

Stanford shot up from 15 in 2012 to seventh place this year, moving Yale down one place to eighth. Chicago also dropped one place, to number nine, while the 10th slot was shared by the California Institute of Technology and Princeton.

QS has six ranking criteria of different weight: 40% of a university’s score is for academic reputation, gleaned from a global academic survey; 10% for employer reputation also based on a global survey; 20% for faculty-student ratio; 20% for citations per faculty; 5% for proportion of international students; and 5% for proportion of international faculty.

Universities in the United States and United Kingdom as usual dominated the top of the ranking, taking 17 of the top 20 places. Six institutions in the top 20 is a record in the QS ranking for Britain.

“However, there is greater diversity beyond this. US universities represent less than a third of the top 100 universities and exactly a quarter of the top 200. Like last year, the UK has 19 universities in the top 100 and 30 in the top 200,” O’Leary wrote.

European resurgence

Most notably, there has been a “resurgence” among Continental European universities: “This is led by Switzerland, which now has two universities in the top 20, following a leap of 10 places by Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne. ETH Zurich is the highest-placed university outside the English-speaking world, having moved up to 12th,” O’Leary found.

The Netherlands has two more universities than last year in the top 100, and all six have improved their positions this year. Although Germany still has only Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg in the top 50, eight of its 13 universities in the top 200 have gone up this year.

“France has two universities in the top 50 and 19 in the top 400. While Italy still has no institutions in the top 100, every one of its representatives in the top 400 has moved up this year, some by as much as 50 places. In Scandinavia, Norway’s University of Oslo has climbed into the top 100 universities, while Denmark’s University of Copenhagen enters the top 50.”

Elsewhere around the world

Australia has seven universities in the top 100, but O’Leary noted that several of its lower-ranked universities dropped places this year, and the same applied to Canada.

“Progress made by universities in the Middle East has not been maintained in the latest rankings, except in Israel, which now has three universities in the top 200. But there have been advances in Latin America, especially in Brazil, where 10 universities are ranked for the first time.”

In Africa, the University of Cape Town moved into the top 150, and South Africa had three other institutions in the top 500 and seven in the ranking. The American University in Cairo was the only African university outside of South Africa in the top 500.

No Asian university entered the top 20 but some progressed up the rankings and, commented O’Leary, “there is little sign of the wholesale advance predicted by many commentators”.

The National University of Singapore is now Asia’s top-ranked institution, overtaking Hong Kong.

China kept 11 of its universities in the top 400, where there were once again five Indian Institutes of Technology. China’s Peking and Tsinghua universities are in the top 50. Japan has 24 universities in the top 600, but only two improved their position.

The United Kingdom

Within the UK, after the four institutions that made it into the top 10 came Edinburgh at number 17, up four places on 2013, King's College London, which moved from 26 to 19 this year, the University of Bristol (30), Manchester (33), Glascow (51) and Birmingham, which shot from number 77 in 2012 to 62 this year.

According to a QS statement, graduates from Oxford and Cambridge were rated the world’s most employable in its global survey of 27,000 graduates employers, while the London School of Economics and Politics, or LSE, was also in the top five.

“Clearly the prestige of a UK degree is recognised by employers around the world, and the brand-name value of Oxbridge has so far survived any negative publicity following the tuition fee hikes and student protests,” said Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit.

However, QS warned that current levels of higher education funding were threatening the UK’s rankings position.

“Of the 45 British universities that make the global top 400, 29 rank lower now than they did at the time of the 2007-8 financial crisis. Twenty-one UK universities have dropped more than 10 places since the recession, while just five rank more than 10 places higher than in 2007.”

The new ranking also suggested that UK universities were “struggling to keep up with the US when it comes to producing cutting-edge research”.

Cambridge was the only British university in the global top 30 for research citations, while America had 31 of the top 50 most-cited institutions, led by Caltech, Harvard and Stanford.

“The UK invests below the OECD average in higher education, so it is unrealistic to expect its universities to continue to punch above their weight indefinitely,” said O’Leary.

Sowter believes the biggest development in this year’s ranking is its expansion to include 100 more universities.

“With 800 universities now featured, the rankings can claim to cover the top 4% of the world’s universities, he said.

Another achievement had been the granting of ‘approved’ status to the QS ranking by the International Ranking Expert Group, or IREG, in May this year.