New global survey picks fastest-improving universities

Four US and two UK universities are among the most improved in the world over the past five years in an analysis of Thomson Reuters academic reputation surveys.

King’s College London and New York University are the most significant climbers over the survey period from 2010 to 2014, dramatically improving their relative positions in the top 50 universities in the surveys, which Thomson Reuters says includes the insights of 65,000 academics and is representative of 6,500 universities and 105 areas of study.

The other “most improved” universities are ETH Zurich, the National University of Singapore, Duke University, Northwestern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Manchester, the University of Melbourne, and the University of Munich.

While the universities identified by Thomson Reuters have made significant improvements, none has performed sufficiently to enter the top ten globally and only Munich is represented in one of the six regional top tens.

The findings, published on May 12, are intended to identify fluctuations across the global academic landscape.

Now in its sixth year, the annual survey seeks to identify the top 100 global universities and provide an insight into the characteristics that define a university’s reputational standing, as well as shifts in academic opinion over time and geographical variances.

Survey responses are a key element, along with research output, citation patterns and funding levels, for Thomson Reuters’ research evaluation tool InCites and the backbone of academic rankings, including the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities and US News & World Report’s Best Global Universities.

However, Thomson Reuters' survey was ditched by Times Higher Education for its global rankings in November last year. THE reverted to Elsevier’s Scopus citation database, which is also used by QS.

The combined survey results to date (2010-14) contain more than 1.5 million individual data points and have recorded 65,000 responses, covering 6,500 of the world’s leading universities across 105 disciplines.

Some findings are predictable, particularly the confirmation of Harvard University’s place at the head of the global table over the five-year period.

Subject top tens

A spread of 22 universities secure a place in the six subject top tens, 15 in the United States, four in the UK, and one each in Canada, Sweden and Switzerland.

The leading universities in terms of appearances in top tens of the six subject areas (arts and humanities, social sciences, medicine and health, life sciences, engineering and technology and physical sciences) are Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford (six each); University of California Berkeley (five appearances); and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale (four).

The other universities in the subject top tens are Princeton (three); California Institute of Technology, Chicago, ETH Zurich, Imperial College London, University of California Los Angeles, and University of California San Francisco (two appearances); and Columbia, Cornell, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins, Karolinska Institute, London School of Economics, Toronto, and University of California Davis (one appearance each).

Regional top tens

Outside the US and the UK, South Africa has six universities in the top ten for Africa over the period 2010-14, led by the University of Cape Town. Egypt has two, and Uganda and Ghana one each.

In Asia, Japan and the People's Republic of China have four universities in the top ten, with Tokyo in first place. South Korea and Taiwan each have one.

In addition to the UK, which dominates with six universities, the top ten European universities are located in Switzerland, Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Brazil has seven universities in the Latin American top ten, with the University of Sao Paulo in first place. Chile has two and Argentina one. No Canadian university makes it into the North American top ten which is exclusively populated with US universities.

Only one university outside Australia – New Zealand’s University of Auckland – appears in the regional top ten for Oceania.

The Thomson Reuters Academic Reputation Survey aims to gain an accurate view of the international research sphere by directly engaging with academics and researchers throughout the world to identify the universities they consider to be the strongest in terms of research and teaching, both regionally and globally.

To prevent language and translation bias, the survey is offered in nine languages: Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Spanish.

Jessica Turner, global head of Thomson Reuters Government and Academia, said: “These initiatives are critical in providing the international research community with honest, user-based assessments, while also offering academics and researchers the opportunity to highlight what they see as the strongest universities within their fields.”