US and UK back on form in QS global university rankings

United States and United Kingdom universities have improved their overall positions, Malaysia and Russia have made noteworthy gains and China has entered the top 20 for the first time in the 15th edition of the QS World University Rankings, released last Wednesday by global higher education analysts QS or Quacquarelli Symonds.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the world’s best university for a record-breaking seventh consecutive year, followed by three other US rivals, Stanford University, Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology.

The US and UK took nine of the top 10 positions, with the US taking five and the UK four.

The US’s fifth top 10 entry was the University of Chicago (in ninth position). The University of Oxford, coming fifth, was the UK’s top performer, followed by the University of Cambridge (sixth), Imperial College London (eighth) and UCL (University College London), which fell three places from seventh to 10th.

Both UK and US universities record more improvements than drops, representing stabilisation for both sectors after recent regressions, according to QS. Among US universities, 65 rose compared to 45 dropping; while nearly twice as many UK universities improved positions as those that dropped places.

Continental Europe’s top performer was Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, up to seventh from 10th last year.

China’s Tsinghua University jumped eight places to 17th, China’s first top 20 entry. But Asia’s top performers were Singapore’s National University of Singapore (11th) and Nanyang Technological University (12th).

The other notable performances came from Malaysia and Russia.

Thirteen Malaysian universities were ranked, four more than last year, and all nine of last year’s ranked institutions improved their performance this year on the back of higher scores for ‘Academic Reputation’ and ‘Employer Reputation’, which QS says is evidence of “consistent progress” for the country’s higher education system.

Russia also showed evidence of consistent improvement and greater competitivity, with 70% of its 27 ranked universities improving their positions and only one falling. It also has three newly ranked universities this year. Its top ranked university, Lomonosov Moscow State University, rose from 95th to 90th, its highest position since the QS rankings began.

According to QS, the rise of Russian universities is largely down to improvements in two indicators, with 19 institutions improving their scores on ‘Employer Reputation’ and 18 improving their position on ‘International Student Ratio’. In addition, 14 of the universities are in the top 100 for ‘Faculty/Student Ratio’ and six are in the top 50 for this indicator.

The Arab Region also achieved its highest-ever representation.

But Australia has lost its only top-20 institution, with the Australian National University falling from 20th to 24th.

In Asia, 17 Japanese universities rose while 11 lost places, but 27 of Japan’s 44 ranked universities saw their ranking on 'Academic Reputation' fall.

In Europe, both France and Germany suffered challenging years – 27 of Germany’s 45 ranked institutions lost ground as did 16 of France’s 35 ranked universities.

Latin American and African universities continued to struggle, although Argentina’s Universidad de Buenos Aires reaches its highest-ever rank (73rd, up from 75th).

The US has more top 50 institutions (19) than any other nation, followed by the UK (8) and Australia (5).

Anglosphere duopoly

Ben Sowter, research director at QS, said: “After some years where the major narrative has been the relentless improvement of institutions outside the Anglosphere duopoly, this year’s edition sees both the United States and the United Kingdom emphasise their continued excellence as higher education nations.

“With six of the world’s top 10 research institutions – according to citations impact – in America, and seven of the world’s top 10 research institutions – according to raw citations yield – also there, it is clear that the US remains unparalleled as far as academic thought-leadership and intellectual innovation are concerned.”

He said the UK’s institutions had stayed ahead of the curve at a time of “relentlessly competitive competition” worldwide, demonstrating their “innovation, insight, capacity for collaboration and thought leadership”.

But they also faced challenges that had grown in recent years.

“The drops in faculty/student ratio, combined with low contact hours, will lead to increasing scrutiny about the extent to which students are receiving value for money. It’s no coincidence that the UK’s best institution is also the one with the lowest student-teacher ratio.”

QS ranks the world’s 1,000 best universities, which come from 85 different countries. Over 65 million stakeholders will view the rankings on this year, QS said.