Regional winners, losers in THE global rankings

The 2019 Times Higher Education or THE World University Rankings analysis shows marked improvement for Asian universities at the expense of stagnation or decline in North America, Europe and Oceania, while Latin American and African universities are still struggling to make an impact on the rankings.


South Africa leads the continent on performance, with nine universities in the rankings, led by the University of Cape Town at joint 156th, followed by the University of the Witwatersrand, ranked in the 201-250 band, and Stellenbosch University in the 301-350 band.

But Egypt has more than twice as many universities ranked, with 19 included in the table, led by the American University in Cairo, two new entrants Benha University and Beni-Suef University, and Kafrelsheikh University and Mansoura University, which were all in the 601-800 band.

Algeria had six in the rankings but none in the top 800. Morocco had four and Nigeria and Tunisia had three apiece, while Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda had just one ranked institution each.


With 103 universities represented – up from 89 last year – Japan secures its largest presence ever and the largest for an Asian country. The nation surpasses the United Kingdom as the second most-represented country in the listing for the first time and claims the second-most improved representation in this year’s table.

After years of decline and stagnation, Japan has achieved some solid progress. The country’s two leading institutions both rise. The University of Tokyo climbs four places to 42nd this year – surpassing Canada’s prestigious McGill University, Germany’s Technical University of Munich and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The University of Tokyo’s rise is largely due to improvements to its teaching, research and industry income scores. The institution makes the global top 20 for its teaching environment this year, in 16th, and it secures 19th position worldwide for the research pillar.

Meanwhile, Kyoto University jumps nine places to 65th, largely due to improvements to its teaching, citation impact (research influence) and industry income scores, and it ranks in the top 40 (at 37) globally for its industry income.

Teikyo University becomes Japan’s highest new entrant, making its debut in the listing in the global top 500 (in the 401-500 banding), with a particularly strong citation impact (research influence) score.

Mainland China is the fourth most-represented nation globally – with 72 universities included, up from 63. It retains seven institutions in the elite top 200, and sees several strong performers this year.

Its standout performer is Tsinghua University, supplanting Peking University as the country’s top-ranked institution, at 22nd, China’s highest ranking since 2011. Peking University fell four places to 31st. Tsinghua – the highest riser in the global top 30 – also overtakes the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University this year, and claims global sixth position for research (volume, income and reputation) – above Princeton University, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

Its rise is driven largely by improvements to its teaching environment, while Peking’s decline is largely down to increasing competition and a decline in research income.

China’s highest-ranked new entrant, Shenzhen’s Southern University of Science and Technology – only established in 2011 – makes an impressive debut in the listing’s global top 350, with a particularly strong citation impact (research influence) score.

Meanwhile Zhejiang University’s massive climb of 76 places to 101st this year was due to improvements across its teaching and learning environment, as well as research and industry income, research volume and proportion of international students. Nankai University is another first-time entrant, entering high in the 351 – 400 band, driven by a strong research influence score.

It was a strong year for Hong Kong as four of its six representatives rise in the definitive global listing, despite increased competition. Four of Hong Kong’s six representatives rise up the table, with two in the top 50, and five making the top 200 for a third consecutive year, despite increased global competition.

Hong Kong’s top-ranked institution is the University of Hong Kong, which climbs four places to 36th, with significant improvements to its teaching environment score. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology retains second position but slips two places to 46th, largely due to the increase in national and regional competition, as its overall score marginally improves.

Hong Kong performs well in the international outlook pillar, which is based on the proportions of international staff and students, with two institutions in the top 10.

Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE rankings, said Hong Kong’s strong international focus “only serves to improve its global standing” but warned that in the face of increasing global competition the territory’s universities “would be well advised to invest more in growing their industry links and research capacity”.

Taiwan has 32 institutions included in this year’s global listing, up from 31, but sees the majority stay static or decline; Malaysia has 11, up from nine; Thailand has 14, up from 10; and Indonesia has five, up from four.

India is the most-represented country in the table when nations with representatives in the top 200 are excluded.

The country is led again by the Indian Institute of Science, which retains its position in the 251-300 band. But in an impressive debut entry, the Indian Institute of Technology Indore becomes India’s second highest-ranked university – and a global top 400 institution – with its strongest scoring for research volume and research impact. It overtakes the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, which slips from the 351-400 to 401-500 banding.

However, while some institutions make gains this year, the majority of India’s universities remain static or decline, struggling amid increased global competition.

Baty said India is bursting with innovation and ambition but is struggling against increased global competition, especially from East Asia.

“Sustained investment, a continued drive to attract leading global talent, and a strengthened international outlook will be key to boosting its global reputation and research influence. Its current higher education reforms could be key to helping institutions progress,” he said.

Singapore’s National University of Singapore dropped one place to 23rd, one below Tsinghua University, and Nanyang Technological University rose one place to 51st.


Although Oxford and Cambridge universities top the global table again, and the United Kingdom had 98 institutions in the ranking, up from 93, the UK slipped to third most-represented nation after being overtaken by Japan. The majority of the UK’s previously ranked institutions – 77 of them – remain static or decline.

However, the UK does remain the second most-represented country in the global top 200, after the US, but 21 of 29 of its top 200 institutions remained static or declined and two slipped from the top 200 entirely.

For France, Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, the 2010 merger of 18 research institutions, is the first institution to make it into the top 50 since 2011. France’s second-best ranking was achieved by Sorbonne University, which was only launched this year from the merger of Pierre and Marie Curie University and Paris-Sorbonne University. At 73rd place, it is this year’s highest ranked newcomer.

Germany remains the third most represented country in the top 200 with 23 universities; and had 47 in the overall ranking, led by LMU Munich at 32nd.

The Netherlands has a new number one institution. Delft University of Technology rises five places, thanks to improved teaching and citation impact (research influence). It surpasses the University of Amsterdam, which slips three spots to 62nd, but most of the country’s 13 ranked institutions dropped places this year.

Italy had a good year with its three leading universities all rising and Spain increased the number of its ranked institutions from 29 to 38, led by Pompeu Fabra University, which jumped five positions to 135th.

For Switzerland, while there was disappointment that ETH Zurich slipped out of the top 10 to 11th, the University of Zurich jumped an impressive 46 places to 90th. The country retains 10 universities in the listing, and seven in the top 200, and is the most-represented country in the top 10 of the international outlook pillar, with three institutions included.

The Republic of Ireland maintains nine universities in the ranking but its leading performer, Trinity College Dublin, dropped three places to 120th, due to a dip in its teaching score.

Latin America

Latin America increases its presence in the table, but countries are struggling to progress amid economic and political turbulence and increased global competition.

Brazil claims its highest presence ever, despite growing international competition – with 36 universities represented this year, up from 32 – led by the University of São Paulo, which holds its position in the 251-300 band and marginally improves in the areas of teaching environment, citation impact (research influence) and international outlook – although its research score declines slightly.

But while Brazil improves its overall representation in the list, each of its previously ranked institutions decline or remain static. The overall picture is gloomy, Baty says, with seven universities falling out of the top 1,000 this year.

“You simply cannot nurture world-class research institutions with funding cuts – and the serious economic problems faced by Brazil do not bode well for the future. Diminishing funding and drops in the rankings can fuel a vicious circle of further decline – with talent draining from the country. Brazil must find a way to get vital resources into its universities – whether public or private – to revitalise the system and stem the decline,” Baty says.

Mexico has 17 institutions in the ranking, up from 11; Chile has 16, up from 13; Colombia has seven, up from five last year; Argentina has five, up from one last year; Peru has two, up from one; Costa Rica still has one; Venezuela has two, down from three; and the University of the West Indies becomes Jamaica’s first ever entrant.

Baty says Mexico, despite its good showing, faces serious challenges, including a drain of talent, limited public funding and only a modest international outlook. He also believes Chile has a long way to go before it can challenge the traditional global elite in higher education and research.

“That will require ensuring universities benefit from sustained investment – a challenge as questions continue around the funding of university education and the move to remove tuition fees for more students – and a commitment to internationalisation. The creation of a new ministry of science could really help get investment into university research and support putting Chilean universities on the international map.”

Middle East and North Africa

The top three institutions in the Middle East and North African or MENA region in this year’s listing are Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia) and Tel Aviv University (Israel), all in the 201-250 band; followed by Alfaisal University (Saudi Arabia), Khalifa University (UAE) and Technion Israel Institute of Technology (Israel), all in the 301-350 band.

Iran is the best-represented country in MENA, with 29 universities included, up significantly from 18 last year. Its lead institution, the Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, slips from the top 350, to the top 400 this year. However, it jointly tops the global table for its citations impact (research influence). While the university is not a global top research institution, it has produced several highly cited, impactful papers this year.

Iraq is represented for first time in the table’s 15-year history. Its University of Baghdad becomes a global top 1,000 institution, ranked in the 801-1,000 band, with its strongest areas being citation impact (research influence) and international research collaboration.

Saudi Arabia has six universities included this year, up from five. King Abdulaziz University maintains its position in the top 250, but with very strong scores for citation impact (research influence) and international outlook, and, with an improved research (volume) score, could soon climb into the elite global top 200, THE says. Meanwhile, Alfaisal University has climbed three bands into the global top 350, with a marked improvement to its citation impact score.

Qatar University – Qatar’s sole institution in the ranking – holds its position in the global top 500 – but comes joint top of the global table for its international outlook (with City University of Hong Kong).

Baty says it will require “intensified focus and investment in research capabilities and a drive to recruit and retain top talent” for MENA to compete with the relentless ascent of East Asia.

North America

The United States remains the most-represented nation in the table, with 172 institutions, up from 157. But the majority of its universities – 130 of them – decline or remain static in the ranking.

While the US continues to dominate the top 200, with 60 universities included, this is down from 62 last year, and more than half (32) decline, while 10 retain their previous position and 18 improve.

The top performer is Stanford University in third place, but the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) – last year’s joint third place holder, and which led the ranking between 2012 and 2016 – loses further ground this year, dropping two places to fifth.

Caltech does however come first in the table’s teaching pillar (the learning environment), followed by Stanford. And Yale University climbs four places to eighth – its highest rank under the current methodology (since 2011) and the largest rise in the top 20. It received higher scores for institutional, research and industry income, research volume and international staff this year.

Harvard University comes global third for research (volume, income and reputation) behind the UK’s University of Oxford, which tops this pillar, and Cambridge.

Meanwhile, the University of California, Berkeley climbs three places to 15th, with improvements to its research and industry income scores. The University of Texas at Austin also has a strong year, vaulting 10 places to join the top 40 at 39th, due to significant increases in its institutional income and research volume.

Ellie Bothwell, editor of global rankings at THE, said the US’s position could be described as “stagnant, or in modest gradual decline” and the combination of funding cuts, tighter immigration policies and mounting global competition could see that position erode further.

It’s a mixed picture for Canada. The country has 27 institutions represented in the 2019 table, up from 26, led again by the University of Toronto, which rises one place to 21st. But most of the country’s universities – 77% of those ranked in both 2018 and 2019 – decline or stay stable compared with last year.

The University of Montreal features in the top 100 for the first time since 2013 – rising 18 positions to joint 90th, and three Canadian institutions join the top 200 this year: the University of Ottawa leaps to joint 176th; Western University rises to joint 190th and the University of Calgary to joint 199th.

Bothwell said: “Canada has a unique opportunity in the higher education landscape. As the US – and the UK – become more inward-looking, and Australia faces a stall in student visa applications from its largest international student market China, Canada is becoming much more open to the world.

“Government initiatives to increase the number of overseas students studying in the country and provide additional support to such students are likely to further improve its already-strong higher education sector. However, Saudi Arabia’s recent removal of its students from the country shows even Canada is not immune to political challenges.”


There are signs of stagnation in Australia, with many universities losing ground and reputation, faced with funding cuts and intensified global competition.

It continued to have 35 institutions in the rankings, and nine in the top 200, led by the University of Melbourne which remained at joint 32nd, but six dropped places.

Australian National University slips one position to 49th. But the University of Sydney rises two places to joint 59th, and the University of Technology, Sydney, enters the top 200 at 196th, with improvements to its research impact.

But several other institutions decline this year, including the University of Western Australia, down 23 places to 134th, with slightly lower citation impact (research influence) and research (volume, income and reputation) scores. The University of New South Wales retains its position in the top 100, but was down 11 places to joint 96th, due to increased competition and a dip in its research score.

Bothwell said: “While there are some examples of progress from Australia this year, the national picture is a cause for concern, with many universities declining or remaining stagnant. The country boasts some world-class institutions – and immense potential for greater success on the global stage. But you can’t sustain world-class universities and research facilities with funding cuts.

“To excel, universities need strong investment and they need to be able to attract and retain the very best global talent and research collaborations. As funding cuts take hold and pressure mounts to cap international student numbers – combined with intensifying competition from Asia – Australia’s universities could well face an uphill struggle in the coming years.”

New Zealand had mixed fortunes. It retains eight institutions, but its flagship University of Auckland drops out of the global top 200 – with declines in its teaching and industry income scores. It is the first time the institution has been out of the top 200 in the history of the rankings. The institution sits this year in the 201-250 banding, alongside the University of Otago.

The Auckland University of Technology (AUT), however, this year jumped two bands into the global top 350, with a significant improvement in its citation impact (research influence) score. It sits alongside the University of Canterbury, which improved by one band. But these are the only two institutions in New Zealand to gain places this year.

Bothwell said AUT’s swift rise has been impressive but the broader picture of most of New Zealand’s universities declining or remaining stagnant and its flagship dropping out of the top 200 comes amid a funding freeze and intensified global competition.

“It reflects a pattern this year among nations sharing similar challenges – including Australia, the US and parts of Europe – and it shows there is absolutely no room for complacency or isolationism. To stem any decline and certainly to progress, New Zealand’s universities will require sustained strong investment and the ability to attract and retain the very best global talent, research collaborations and international students,” Bothwell said.


Russia increases its presence in this year’s listing – with 35 representatives, up from 27.

Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia’s flagship university, retains its top spot but only just clings to the global top 200 – dropping five places to joint 199th due to falls in its teaching and research reputation and international research collaboration.

The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology retains its position in the global top 300 – and as the nation’s second top institution.

The Higher School of Economics joins the 301-350 band, up from 351-400. Its teaching reputation, research volume, citation impact and industry income all improve this year, while the institution has also attracted more international students and staff.

The National Research Nuclear University MEPhI also rises – from the 401-500 band to the 351-400 band, with improvements to its teaching, research and international outlook scores.

RUDN University becomes Russia’s highest riser for 2019 – climbing into the 601-800 band, having dropped out of the top 1,000 last year. The institution’s advance is due largely to improvements in its teaching environment, citation impact (research influence) and international outlook scores.

Despite the positive performance overall, Baty said the ambitious goal of the Project 5-100, to elevate five institutions into the top 100 by 2020, remains a daunting challenge, particularly in the face of “increasingly intense global competition – and specifically from Asia”.

But he said several institutions have begun strengthening their international partnerships, which alongside significant investment is key to progress.

“Global collaborations improve reputation and research influence – to advance, that’s where the attention needs to be,” he said.