US tops Shanghai university rankings, China on rise

American universities have again outranked more than 1,250 other higher education institutions around the world in the annual Shanghai Jiao Tong listing of the global top 500 universities. And for the 12th year running, Harvard was placed number one.

The global Academic Ranking of World Universities, or ARWU, was released on Friday with the usual long list of United States universities taking 16 places in the top 20, 52 in the top 100 and 146 in the top 500.

Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Princeton, Caltech, Columbia and Chicago – in that order – were in the top 10 while American institutions also occupied the top five places in four of the five broad subject fields where Shanghai ranks the top 200 universities.

Britain came second with three of its universities in the top 20 – Cambridge at number five, Oxford at number nine and University College London at 20. The UK also had eight universities in the top 100 and 20 in the top 200 with a total of 38 at the 500 point.

That was one behind Germany, which had 39 universities in total in the top 500 but none in the top 20. France and Italy each had 21 universities in the top 500, as did Canada, and they were followed by Australia and Japan with 19 each.

Switzerland’s science and engineering university, ETH Zurich, joined the elite top 20 group for the first time, in the 19th spot, placing the university first among European institutions.

ETH was followed by France’s Pierre and Marie Curie University at number 35, while the University of Copenhagen, in 39th position, overtook Paris-Sud as the third top university in Europe.

The Swiss-based École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne or EPFL made its first appearance in the top 100, increasing Switzerland’s representation to five – the third highest of all countries in the ranking but with seven in total.

China, with 44 universities ranked in the top 500, continues to make rapid advances up the table even though its institutions only managed to get as far as having nine in the top 200. Even with 44, though, China still had 102 fewer of its institutions placed in the rankings than the US.

Elsewhere in Asia, the University of Tokyo at 21 and Kyoto University at 26 topped all others in Asia while the University of Melbourne in 44th position became the highest ranked university in Australasia in the history of the ARWU.

Overall, 16 countries had at least one university in the top 100 while 42 nations were represented in the top 500, with nine managing to have one listed and six having two. This year, 25 universities broke into the top 500, including Deakin University in Melbourne plus another nine that also made their first appearance.

South Africa and Egypt were the only countries on the African continent to be represented in the top 500: South Africa with the universities of Cape Town, the Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch, and Egypt with the University of Cairo.

The ranking

The Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong first launched the precursor of the now too-numerous university ranking systems in 2003.

It has been criticised in the past for its heavy reliance on science-oriented sources, using indicators such as the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel prizes and Fields Medals, and the number of articles published in Nature and Science.

The ranking also uses the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index, as well as each university’s ‘per capita performance’ in determining a university’s place in the rankings.

The latter is calculated by the weighted scores of the other five indicators divided by the number of full-time equivalent academic staff. The centre says that if staff numbers are not available, only the weighted scores of the five indicators are used.

The centre is certainly correct, however, when it refers to its “transparent methodology and reliable data” – unlike some other rankings – and its listings are still regarded as the most reliable, if not most prestigious, of all the global university ranking systems.

Performance by field

It also publishes other results of the vast amount of data the ranking collects, such as the classification of the top 200 universities in five broad fields as well as in five selected subject fields. The following lists the fields and the top five universities in each, which again shows America’s domination:
  • • Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Caltech.
  • • Engineering-Technology and Computer Sciences: MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Texas at Austin.
  • • Life and Agriculture Sciences: Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT and University of California, San Francisco.
  • • Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy: Harvard, UC San Francisco, Washington (Seattle), Johns Hopkins and Stanford.
  • • Social Sciences: Harvard, Chicago, MIT, Berkeley and Columbia.
And in the subject fields:
  • • Mathematics: Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, Pierre and Marie Curie and Stanford.
  • • Physics: Berkeley, Princeton, MIT, Harvard and Caltech.
  • • Chemistry: Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern (Evanston) and Cambridge.
  • • Computer Science: Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Harvard and Princeton.
  • • Economics-Business: Harvard, Chicago, MIT, Berkeley and Princeton.


I'd love to see one that exclusively looks at teaching quality.

Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page