Asian universities make inroads in subject rankings

The Times Higher Education or THE last week published the latest in the THE World University Rankings series, covering four subjects: social sciences, law, education, and business and economics.

It is the first time law and education have been included in the THE World University Subject Rankings, while the business and economics, and social sciences rankings have been significantly expanded, to 200 and 400 ranked institutions, respectively.

Social sciences

The University of Oxford in the United Kingdom topped social sciences, followed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT at joint second, Stanford University and Princeton University, all in the United States.

The UK’s University of Cambridge moved up five places to sixth, followed by the University of Chicago, Yale University and the University of Michigan (all US), with the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK) moving up five places to 10th.

Phil Baty, editorial director, global rankings, at THE, said the list has expanded four-fold to cover 400 universities, compared with 100 last year, and highlights universities that are leading across the subjects of communication and media studies, politics and international studies (including development studies), sociology and geography.

“This year marks the first time a UK institution has been named top for social sciences in the eight-year history of the table – the University of Oxford is number one,” Baty said. “It overtakes Stanford, which received large drops in its scores for research and teaching, while Oxford improved its teaching performance.”

The University of California, Los Angeles, dropped out of the top 10, falling six places to 15th.

Just one institution outside the US or UK – the Netherlands’ University of Amsterdam – made the top 20. It climbed six places to 20th.

“Below the top 20, universities in Asia are making big gains,” Baty said. “The National University of Singapore has jumped 16 places to 21st and Peking University has leapt 13 places to 22nd. The University of Hong Kong has crept into 30th after moving up one place.

“It means that three Asian universities now make the top 30 for social sciences for the first time; no universities in the continent had reached these heights last year. It demonstrates that the continent’s rankings rise is not just limited to science and technology subjects.”


The ranking for law was topped by Duke University, followed by Stanford, Yale, Chicago (all of the US) and Cambridge from the UK.

Oxford came sixth, followed by Australia’s University of Melbourne, University College London (UK), Harvard (US), and Canada’s University of Toronto.

Baty noted that Harvard’s ninth place was “mainly due to its much lower score for teaching”.

The top 20 was quite diverse in terms of countries represented, with 10 from the US, four from the UK, three from Canada, and one each from Australia, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.


The education ranking was topped by Stanford, followed by Harvard, Oxford, the University of Hong Kong and the University of California, Berkeley.

The next five were from the United States – University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California Los Angeles, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, and Michigan State University.

The US had 12 of the top 20, the UK had four, Canada two (University of Toronto =11th and University of British Columbia =13th), and Hong Kong had two (University of Hong Kong fourth, and Chinese University of Hong Kong 20th).

Baty said this was the first time an Asian university had made it into the top five of a THE World University Rankings table and the University of Hong Kong had achieved fourth place, compared to 40th in the overall ranking, largely due to its very high score for research.

“Other Asian institutions also perform much more strongly in this table compared to the overall world rankings. The Chinese University of Hong Kong is 20th (compared to 58th overall), National Taiwan Normal University is 22nd (501-600) and Nanyang Technological University is 27th (52nd). Institutions in Japan and South Korea also feature, but mainland China does not make the cut,” he said.

He said another notable finding was that the University of Oxford ranks higher than University College London, or UCL, for education. “Oxford achieves higher scores than UCL on all five pillars underlying the methodology – teaching, research, citations, knowledge transfer and international outlook.”

Business and economics

The business and economics ranking was topped by Stanford, which swapped places with MIT, followed by Oxford, London Business School and Cambridge.

The remainder of the top 10 were all US universities – Harvard, Chicago, Northwestern, Pennsylvania and California, Berkeley. Overall the US took 12 of the top 20, followed by the UK with three.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (14th), National University of Singapore (16th) and Peking University (17th) gave Asia a strong presence in the top 20, where Canada also had one university (University of British Columbia, 19th), and Germany slipped in with University of Mannheim (20th).

The ranking, which has been expanded from 100 to 200 since last year, covers business and management; accounting and finance or business and economics: business and management and accounting and finance (combined); and economics and econometrics.

“Overall 27 countries from five continents make the top 200 table, demonstrating that leading universities for business and economics can be found all over the world,” Baty said.