Reputation a key factor for ranking winners and losers

Analysis of the winners and losers by region in the latest QS World University Rankings provides some insight into which higher education systems are improving or losing ground on six indicators – Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Citations per Faculty, Faculty/Student Ratio, International Student Ratio, and International Faculty Ratio.

North America

The United States retains 33 institutions in the top 100 in the 2019 QS World University Rankings, two more than in last year’s edition. US progressions can be attributed primarily to improving feedback from employers, with 95 of America’s 157 ranked universities achieving higher ranks in the Employer Reputation indicator – the best overall performance in any of the six metrics.

However, closer examination of US performance in individual metrics suggests the existence of further challenges for the system, QS says.

Some 118 of the US’s 157 ranked universities saw their rank for Citations per Faculty drop, reflecting increasing research output (and impact) in the rest of the world. QS’s analysis has seen the average number of papers produced by each institution globally increase 12.1% year-on-year, and the average number of citations yielded from those papers increase by 22.2% year-on-year.

Additionally, there is also evidence that the US system’s attractiveness to both international students and faculty is decreasing: 118 of 157 institutions see drops in their International Student Ratio rank, while 112 of 157 receive a lower rank for International Faculty Ratio, QS says.

Canada, by contrast, saw 17 of its 26 ranked institutions drop places. The University of Toronto performed best for the second consecutive year, rising from 31st to 28th, and the University of British Columbia regained its top-50 position (now 47th ). The areas of concern include that 24 of the 26 institutions lost ground on the Academic Reputation indicator, and 21 saw their scores for Citations per Faculty fall. By contrast, half of the institutions saw their International Student Ratio indicator improve.

United Kingdom

Of 76 ranked universities from the United Kingdom, 41 improved their rank, while only 20 dropped places. The University of Oxford took over the lead from Cambridge, swapping places from fifth to sixth. The University of Edinburgh returns to the global top 20, rising from 23rd to 18th.

As a system, the UK has seen consistent improvements in the indicator that QS use to measure research impact, Citations per Faculty: 49 ranked institutions improved their performance for this indicator, against 27 falling places, and it was Oxford’s improvement in this indicator that was mainly responsible for it outperforming Cambridge, which came third in research performance, with the London School of Economics first in the UK.

However, this year’s results also provide evidence that class sizes continue to rise relentlessly in the UK, with potentially negative consequences for both student experience and rankings performance. A worrying 70 of the UK’s 76 institutions see their score for Faculty/Student Ratio drop – as close to a uniform trend as is seen among major nations in this year’s tables.

For a third consecutive year, the results also provide evidence that the UK is beginning to lose its appeal to international students, with 53 of 76 universities seeing their score for International Student Ratio drop, and only 22 making improvements. This represents a slight exacerbation of last year’s regressive trend, where 51 of 76 saw their rank in the same indicator drop.

“The results indicate that the sector is still struggling to convince international students of the country’s desirability in the first post-Brexit years,” said Ben Sowter, research director at QS.

Continental Europe

France had a challenging year with 16 of its 35 ranked universities losing places and only eight gaining, mainly due to a poor performance on Employer Reputation, despite having three of the world’s top 20 for graduate employability – CentraleSupélec, Ecole Polytechnique, and Paris Sciences et Lettres Research University. Large class sizes and lower research impact than rival countries were also a problem.

By contrast, seven German universities achieved one of the world’s top 100 scores for QS’s Employer Reputation indicator. This is more than any other continental European nation, and the joint-third-highest in the world. Only the UK (16) and the US (20) have more of the world’s top 100 universities by QS’s Employer Reputation indicator.

Still Germany, too, had a poor year with 27 of 45 ranked universities dropping places and 14 improving, despite its three in the top 100 all rising – with Technische Universität München up from 64th to 61st, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München up from 66th to 62nd, and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg up from 68th to 64th. Most of Germany’s ranked institutions this year scored lower on Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio and Academic Reputation than last year.

Switzerland boasts continental Europe’s top performer, in ETH Zurich, which rose to seventh globally, but also achieved a top 50 ranking in five of the six indicators used in the rankings. Only 14 universities have a higher score for Citations per Faculty, indicating research excellence.

The country as a whole has nine ranked universities of which seven achieved a top 200 place and five achieved a top 100 score for Citations per Faculty. However, EPFL Lausanne tumbled from 12th to 22nd, due mainly to a sharp fall in its Employer Reputation score.

The Netherlands has gained a third top 100 institution, with Eindhoven University of Technology (99th) joining Delft University of Technology (52nd) and the University of Amsterdam (57th).

Research impact remains a strength of Dutch institutions. Seven of the world’s top 100 scores for Citations per Faculty are achieved by universities from the Netherlands: a testament to the thriving research ecosystem in the country. Dutch universities have averaged 133 citations per faculty member – more than double the global average of 60 citations per faculty member.

Spain has a had a good year with 25 universities ranked, two up on last time, and 13 improving against two falling back. Progress was made mainly due to improved scores for Academic Reputation and Employer Reputation. But 20 universities suffered drops in International Faculty Ratio and 18 received a lower rank on Citations per Faculty.


Asia now has three universities in the top 20, 24 universities in the top 100, up one from last year, and 225 in the 1,000 strong ranking. China, which now has more top 100 universities than any other Asian nation, saw 19 of its 40 ranked institutions rise, against 11 losing places. China’s Tsinghua University jumped eight places to 17th, China’s first top 20 entry.

South Korea enjoyed a progressive year, with more rises than drops, and with one new top-100 entrant (Sungkyunkwan University, up from 108th to 100th), and widespread improvement in access to academic faculty (Faculty/Student Ratio) and in the International Student Ratio. It also took five top 100 places for the first time.

Not one of Malaysia’s 13 ranked universities fell and Universiti Malaya breaks into the top 100 at 87th, up from 114th, and now receives one of the world’s top 100 scores for Academic Reputation. Malaysian institutions are also benefiting from improved staff/student ratios, and a higher share of the international student market at their ranked institutions.

Ben Sowter of QS said: “After a second year in which two Singaporean universities have placed among the top 15, it might seem only a matter of time before the continent can lay claim to one of the world’s 10 best universities. However, Tsinghua’s performance might also, despite first glance, suggest how much ground is yet to be gained.”

He said that only six universities in the entire world produced more papers than Tsinghua University in the latest window (2012 through 2016), while 25 saw more citations yielded on their institution’s papers.

“This disparity between quantity and impact remains notable, and will require yet more institutional strategy and government policy to reduce. We note that 13 of the world’s 50 highest paper-producing institutions are Asian, but only seven of the 50 highest citation-yielding institutions hail from Asia nations,” said Sowter.

Nevertheless, China enjoyed an excellent research performance, with 28 universities (70%) improving their rank in QS’s Citations per Faculty indicator, which measures an institution’s research impact. Five Chinese universities are among the top 100 for research effectiveness – University of Science and Technology of China (17th), Nanjing University (45th), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (50th), Tsinghua University (70th) and East China University of Science and Technology (99th).

While Japan had some notable success with the University of Tokyo rising from 28th to 23rd, its highest rank this decade, and 17 universities rising places against 11 losing ground, 27 of Japan’s 44 ranked universities saw their ranking on Academic Reputation fall.

Japan’s relative research performance is also suffering, with 37 of its 44 universities seeing a decreasing score for Citations per Faculty. QS said this can be attributed to concerted efforts in other nations to accelerate the development of highly-cited scholarship.

But Japan’s universities are also becoming less international, relative to global competitors – 34 Japanese universities saw their rank for International Student Ratio drop, and 41 of 44 saw their rank for International Faculty Ratio drop.


Nearly three-quarters of Australia’s globally-ranked universities are improving their international research impact, the latest rankings show. But overall there was a mixed picture, with 15 Australian universities rising and 12 falling, with 10 staying put.

Of most concern will be the fact that 34 out of 37 institutions saw a drop in their Faculty/Student Ratio indicator, which reflects the extent to which students might expect meaningful interaction with faculty. But also 25 out of 37 saw their Academic Reputation decline, reflecting the improving reputation and academic standards of rival institutions around the world, QS said.

The best performer, Australian National University, fell out of the top 20, moving from 20th to 24th. But the University of Melbourne rose two places to 39th and the University of Sydney leapt eight places to 42nd.

Arabic countries

Twelve nations in the Arab Region have at least one ranked university, and they have increased their overall total of ranked universities from 32 to 41 year-on-year. The region’s leading university remains Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, retaining its top-200 rank, at 189th.

The two most-represented nations are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have eight ranked institutions each. Egypt and Lebanon both have six, while Iraq has four. Lebanon has the highest number of new entrants (3).

The region’s universities have a strong record on encouraging regional international mobility, with 13 of the region’s 41 universities achieving a perfect score of 100/100 for International Faculty Ratio. Five of the 41 achieve a perfect score of 100/100 for both International Student Ratio and International Faculty Ratio, all of them from the United Arab Emirates. They are the American University of Sharjah, Abu Dhabi University, the University of Sharjah, American University in Dubai, and newly-included Ajman University.

However, fostering global research impact is proving more challenging, with no university in the region scoring more than 33.6/100 for Citations per Faculty, QS’s metric for measuring global research performance.


South Africa is at risk of losing its only top-200 university, and the African continent’s only representative among the world’s top 200, according to QS, as the ranking sees the University of Cape Town fall from 191st to 200th – the third time that it has fallen in four years.

Seventeen African universities are ranked, nine of them from South Africa. The continent’s other representatives hail from Egypt (6), Kenya (1) and Morocco (1). But the University of Johannesburg (up from the 601-650 category to the 551-560 band) is the continent’s only university to rise this year.

The University of Cape Town still enjoys a significantly superior reputation to any other university on the continent among the global academic community. It ranks 169th for Academic Reputation, nearly 100 ranks ahead of Egypt’s Cairo University (263rd).

Only three of the continent’s 17 universities improved their Academic Reputation performance – Alexandria University and Ain Shams University from Egypt, and South Africa’s University of Johannesburg.

South Africa’s universities remain the clear continental research leaders: its nine universities are Africa’s nine best universities according to QS’s Citations per Faculty indicator, with Stellenbosch University (231st for this indicator) the continent’s leading university for research impact per faculty member. It’s joined among the global top 300 by the University of Cape Town (292nd).

Sowter said: “The average raw number of citations per faculty member at African institutions has increased by 33% this year – from nine per academic in last year’s edition to 12 per academic this year. However, this total is still only 20% of the global citations per faculty average (60 per academic), and only underlines the pace at which global research output is increasing.”

Latin America

All of Latin America’s top five institutions improved their rank. Universidad de Buenos Aires retained its title as the continent’s best university at 73rd place, but Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo dropped to third on the continent. It falls behind Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which has risen from 122nd to 113th.

However, Brazil is still the only nation to have three of Latin America’s 10 best universities, with Universidade Estadual de Campinas and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro also ranked in this uppermost echelon. Colombia, Chile and Mexico all have two of Latin America’s top-10 institutions.

Overall, the continent continues to struggle relative to its global competitors. While 14 Latin American universities improved, 28 recorded drops. There were six new entrants this year.

QS says Latin America’s struggle to record improvements can be primarily attributed to the relative lack of recognition its universities are receiving among the global academic community, with 58 of the continent’s 93 universities seeing their rank drop in QS’s Academic Reputation indicator, which measures the opinions of over 83,000 academic faculty across the world.

In addition, Latin American universities are also struggling to command an increasing share of the global international student market, with 65 of 93 seeing their rank for International Student Ratio fall.

On the plus side, employers feel more positively about the quality of Latin American graduates, with 50 of the continent’s 93 universities improving their rank in the Employer Reputation indicator.