China, US lead on gains in ARWU university ranking

China and the United States are the biggest gainers in the 2018 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), released on 15 August, with respectively six and four more universities in the top 500, but there is no movement at the very top with Harvard University leading for the 16th year running.

In fact, the entire top 10 remains unchanged and there is barely a flicker of movement in the top 20, which saw no new entries and just three universities changed places.

Stanford University remains second; the University of Cambridge third; followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; University of Oxford; Columbia University; the California Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago in the same order as last year.

Universities from the United States dominate this year’s Top 500 list with eight universities among the Top 10, 46 among the Top 100 and 139 among the Top 500.

China has 62 universities ranked in the Top 500, among which three are in the Top 100. The United Kingdom has 39 Top 500 universities, with eight in the Top 100.

Zhihui Zhang, a member of the ARWU ranking team, told University World News: “China and the US are the biggest winners this year, whose numbers of top 500 universities increase by six and four respectively. By contrast, South Korea loses two positions this year, the largest number among countries whose numbers of top 500 universities are decreasing.”

Zhang said the ranking showed that universities from China and the US are making more progress in improving their performance relative to universities from other countries as a whole.

“Since 500 is a fixed number, the increasing number of universities from China and the US indirectly decreases the number of top 500 universities from other countries.”

Among universities from Continental Europe, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich or ETH Zurich (19th, up from 20th last year) continues as the best ranked, followed by the University of Copenhagen (29th, up from 31st) and Sorbonne University (36th) – a newly created university from a merger between Pierre and Marie Curie University and Paris-Sorbonne University. This is an interesting improvement given that last year Pierre and Marie Curie University came 40th but Paris-Sorbonne was ranked a very lowly 701-800.

Japan’s University of Tokyo (22nd, up from 25th) and Kyoto University (35th, up from 36th) keep their leading positions in Asia. China’s Tsinghua University (45th, up from 50th) is ranked the third among Asian universities. The University of Melbourne (38th, up from 40th) tops other universities in Oceania.

China’s Zhejiang University (67th, up from 101-150) and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (96th, up from 116th) both showed impressive improvement and both made their first ever appearance in the Top 100. China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University (333rd, up significantly from 501-600), was among 10 universities entering into the Top 500 list for the first time.

Zhang said the glacial speed of change at the top of the ranking was not surprising.

“In reality, the rankings of universities should not change much between years since the performance of universities usually don’t change much during a year. The stability of ARWU[’s ranking] just reflects this reality to some extent,” Zhang told University World News.

“However, the changes of ranking for some universities provide us with valuable information that some universities are improving their performance more significantly than other universities. This may be valuable for universities, the governments, policy-makers and the public.”

Last year, in addition to the Top 500 list, the universities ranked in the range of 501-800 were published as ARWU World Top 500 Candidates. This year the list of World Top 500 Candidates is extended to cover all universities ranked in the top 1,000. China and the United States are the two biggest hosts of Top 500 Candidates; China has 84 universities recognised as candidates and the United States has 78.

ARWU, which launched its rankings in 2003, adopts six objective indicators to rank world universities, weighted as follows:
  • • Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, 10%.
  • • Staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, 20%.
  • • Highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories, 20%.
  • • Papers published in Nature and Science*, 20%.
  • • Papers indexed in Science Citation Index Expanded and
    Social Sciences Citation Index, 20%.
  • • Per capita academic performance of an institution, 10%.
About 1,500 universities are actually ranked by ARWU every year and the best 500 universities are published. In 2018, those universities ranked between 501 and 1000 in the world were also published.

*For institutions specialised in humanities and social sciences such as the London School of Economics and Political Sceince, Nature and Science are not considered, and the weighting of Nature and Science is relocated to other indicators.