MIT, Harvard lead world’s biggest subject rankings

University ranker QS on Tuesday published the world’s largest subject rankings, featuring 42 disciplines. The United States once again dominates the ranking, topping 31 subjects, with MIT and Harvard clinching the number one spot in 12 subjects each. There are 551 institutions from 49 countries in the top 100 in at least one subject.

There are 16 universities that lead in at least one of the subjects. Aside from American institutions’ 31 top spots, United Kingdom universities came first in eight subjects, while the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Switzerland each claimed one top position.

This is the sixth edition of QS World University Rankings by Subject, published on

Six subjects have been added to the previous 36 – anthropology, archaeology, mining engineering, nursing, performing arts and social policy.

The subject rankings are based on four indicators: the opinions of 76,798 academics and 44,426 employers, and analysis of 28.5 million research papers and 113 million citations (excluding 25.4 million self-citations) from the Scopus-Elsevier bibliometric database.

QS said adaptive weightings for the criteria were used, to take differences among subjects into account. The results are presented in online tables, which can be filtered by location and performance indicator, and there are reports for selected countries.

Some more stats

In the top 50 across the 42 subjects, the US achieved 36% of all positions. Asian universities accounted for 16% of the top 50 subject places, the UK got 15% and the rest of Europe a further 15%, while Australia claimed 9% and Canada 6%. America was down nearly 1% on the year before while the UK improved by 1.3%.

“Although Latin American and African institutions are less strongly represented, these regions’ leading institutions do feature in many different subjects,” said QS – Quacquarelli Symonds – in a statement.

Nine of last year’s 36 subjects have new leaders, and all of the subjects have new entries. Some rankings have been enlarged, QS added, reflecting an increase in data collected.

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit, said: “Though the US and UK remain dominant, our most inclusive rankings ever show that excellence can be found in an ever-increasing number of places. Nations like Austria, South Africa, Finland, Brazil, China, and Sweden can be found in the top 10 of our tables.”

Subject winners

Harvard and MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – took the lion’s share of top places, said QS, with their 12 subjects each. Another seven American institutions clinched one first place, taking the US total to 31 of the 42 subjects.

UK universities came first in eight subjects – with Oxford taking the most at four – while the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Switzerland each claimed one top spot. In all, 16 universities claimed at least one top position.

MIT led in architecture and the built environment, chemistry, computer science, economics and econometrics, chemical engineering, civil and structural engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, linguistics, materials science, physics and astronomy, and statistics and operational research.

Harvard was top in accounting and finance, anthropology, biological sciences, business and management, development studies, law, medicine, pharmacy and pharmacology, politics and international studies, psychology, social policy and administration, and sociology.

Other US universities to come global first were: Southern California in communication and media studies; Colorado School of Mines in mining engineering; California, Berkeley in environmental sciences; Pennsylvania in nursing; Juilliard in performing arts; Pittsburgh in philosophy; and California, Davis in veterinary science.

From the UK, Oxford led in English language and literature, geography, modern languages, and jointly with Cambridge in history. Cambridge was also top in archaeology and maths. The Royal College of Art was top in art and design, and University College London’s Institute of Education was first in education.

The other three universities to lead the world in a subject were: the Netherlands’ Wageningen in agriculture and forestry; Hong Kong in dentistry; and Switzerland’s ETH Zurich in earth and marine sciences.

Beyond the top place

Beyond the number one positions, QS said, strong all-round performances were claimed by Cambridge, which ranked among the top 10 in 36 disciplines, University of California, Berkeley which scored 35 top 10 places, and Oxford and Stanford which were both in the top 10 in 33 subjects. Harvard clinched 30 top 10 places and MIT got 22.

They are followed with 13 places each by London School of Economics and Political Science, National University of Singapore, and University of California, Los Angeles. Princeton won top 10 places in 12 subjects, followed ETH Zurich (11), Yale (10), Imperial College London (9) and University College London (8).

Then came Hong Kong with six, Tokyo with five, Australian National University and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute with four each, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and China’s Tsinghua University with three each.

A total of 945 universities appear in the published range of results for at least one subject, according to QS. There were 774 institutions ranked within the top 200 in at least one subject, 551 within the top 100 in at least one subject, and 347 within the top 50.