China, Japan raise pressure on US, UK in global ranking

China in particular, and Asia in general, are providing increased competition to Europe and the United States, and BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have all strengthened their position in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2020, released on Wednesday.

While American and United Kingdom universities continue to dominate at the top, the UK is feeling the squeeze with 18 of its 28 institutions in the top 200 dropping at least one place.

Mainland China once again expands its representation in the table, with 81 institutions ranked. This is nine higher than last year and solidifies its fourth-place position in the table, after the US, Japan (110) and the UK (100).

Japan, with 110 institutions, has seven more than last year, but China leads Asia in the top 200 in overall numbers and has the top two institutions on the continent, with Tsinghua University leading in 23rd place and Peking University (24th) overtaking the National University of Singapore (25th).

India once again sees a significant jump in its overall representation, with 56 universities, up from 49 previously. This again places India fifth in the world for number of universities represented, ahead of Germany by eight institutions but 25 behind mainland China.

Surprises this year include the rise of Iran, one of the biggest climbers, overtaking Australia, France, Russia and Taiwan with 40 universities ranked, and now among the top 10 most-represented countries; and Brazil, which has overtaken Italy and Spain with 46 institutions, as BRICS countries in general have seen their representation improve.

Phil Baty, THE chief knowledge officer, commenting on the global trends, said: “It has long been clear that the emerging countries of Asia are going to play an increasingly powerful role among the global elite of higher education. It must also be stated, however, that the traditional Anglo-American powerhouses will not be displaced at the top of our rankings with ease.”

UK universities squeezed

He said UK universities are being squeezed by Asian rivals and Brexit uncertainty. “Last year, the UK was displaced as the second most-represented country overall by Japan and the Asian nation further extends its lead this year.

“British universities have long been able to attract the most talented academics and students from across the world, but there are signs that this is becoming more difficult ahead of Brexit. If the UK starts to withdraw from the international stage, its position in the upper echelons of the rankings will suffer.”

Nevertheless, the UK retains top spot, with the University of Oxford first for the fourth year running, followed by the California Institute of Technology, which rises three places to second. The University of Cambridge drops one place to third, followed by Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the top five.

Switzerland is the only nation outside the United Kingdom and North America to breach the top 20, with ETH Zurich coming in joint 13th place, down two from last year.

The US once again provides 60 of the top 200, 10 of which come from the state of California alone. US institutions see a slight drop in their average ranking overall – although among countries with more than 50 entrants, American universities are still ranked highest on average.

Europe makes a strong showing once again – with almost half of the global top 200 coming from the continent. Four European countries appear in the top 10 most-represented nations – the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain – all of which see their contingents grow.

The UK continues to punch well above its weight in terms of representation, with 28 institutions in the top 200 and 100 in total throughout the rankings, two more than last year.

In all, mainland China is the joint sixth most-represented country in the top 200 – tied with Canada and Switzerland – and the fourth most-represented country in the entire list, demonstrating that while its performance has improved over time, it has yet to break the Anglo-American dominance of the highest tier of higher education.

Consistent Chinese improvement

According to THE’s analysis, Chinese universities consistently show improvement in their scores for research environment, citation impact and teaching environment – perhaps a reflection of sustained high funding levels – but fall behind their US and European rivals in terms of international outlook.

Ellie Bothwell, THE rankings editor, said: “Asia now has twice as many ranked universities as North America and is less than 100 institutions behind Europe – although Europe has far more representatives in the top 200.

“The next challenge for Asia will be to elevate more universities into this elite top 200, and beyond. A key factor in achieving this will be improving on international outlook and attempting to attract the best and brightest academic and student talent from across the world.”

France is the only nation with brand new entrants in the top 200, while institutions in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea and Sweden rise to join the elite group.

Russia sees its representation in the ranking improve, with 39 universities, up from 35 last year. It overtakes Australia in terms of number of universities but is still the 11th most-represented country, having itself been overtaken by Iran. Its highest ranked institution is Lomonosov Moscow State University, up 10 places to 189th, still a long way from the top 100.

Turkey saw a significant rise in the number of institutions ranked, up 11 to 34. Vietnam enters the ranking for the first time with three new institutions.

The 16th edition ranks nearly 1,400 institutions this year. Seven new nations join, bringing the total number of countries up to 92. New entrants include Bangladesh, Brunei, Cuba, Malta, Montenegro, Puerto Rico and Vietnam.

Baty said: “Future editions of the World University Rankings will most likely reveal intense competition, and while European and American institutions face significant hurdles, Chinese and other Asian universities have challenges of their own they must meet.

“These include ensuring that the excellent academics they produce do not move abroad to more established institutions in Europe and North America; promoting a culture of scholarly creativity and freedom; and boosting ties with nations across the globe.”

Below is a round-up of performance by region, with all data supplied by THE World University Rankings 2020.


Australia improves its representation in the global top 200, claiming 11 places in this elite group, up from nine last year, but its overall representation remains the same at 35.

The University of Melbourne once again finishes top by equalling last year’s joint 32nd place finish, while Australian National University drops one place to 50th. UNSW Sydney performs well, rising 25 places to 71st, while Queensland University of Technology and the University of Canberra both join the top 200, in joint 179th place and 193rd place respectively.

Australian institutions perform consistently well in terms of their international outlook and research environment, but on occasion fall behind in their teaching scores, according to THE.


Together, mainland China and Japan represent 45% of all Asian entries into the ranking. Asia in general continues to provide increased competition to Europe and the US, adding more new universities to the rankings than either Europe or North America (57 in total) and expanding its top 200 contingent to 24, two more than last year.

Tsinghua University remains the highest-ranked institution in Asia – distinguished by its outstanding research and industry scores – while Peking University overtakes the National University of Singapore to place second on the continent, marking the first time that mainland China is home to the top two universities in Asia.

Some Chinese institutions drop within the top 200, with Nanjing University falling 10 places to joint 144th and Zhejiang University declining six places to joint 107th, but the overall picture is one of continued progress. Shanghai Jiao Tong University leapfrogs numerous US and UK institutions to rise 32 places to joint 157th, driven mainly by a significant increase in its research environment and industry income score.

Hong Kong continues to perform remarkably well in the rankings given its size, with six institutions in total. Once again, five of these make the top 200 and three appear in the top 60. However, it is now the third most-represented Asian nation in the top 200, down from second, having been overtaken by South Korea.

The University of Hong Kong still leads the charge in 35th place, one higher than last year. However, it is the only Hong Kong university in the top 200 to improve its position, with the region’s four other top 200 placers dropping between four and 16 places.

According to THE’s analysis, each of Hong Kong’s six institutions are characterised by an outstanding international outlook – bucking a trend among Asian universities – and a high-quality teaching environment, but a relatively low industry income in comparison to their top 200 rivals.

Turkey, India and Taiwan have all seen their contingents grow. Smaller Asian countries also perform particularly well.

Singapore’s two institutions both place in the top 50 for the first time, after Nanyang Technological University climbs three places to joint 48th, while Hong Kong once again sees five of its six institutions in the global top 200.

Macao sees a second university enter the rankings – the Macau University of Science and Technology in the 251-300 band – while the University of Macau improves its performance to join the 301-350 band (up from 351-400).

Japan continues to perform well as the most heavily represented Asian nation, seeing its highest-ranked institution (the University of Tokyo) rise six places to joint 36th, but still has only two institutions in the top 200 – fewer than Italy, Denmark and Belgium – with Kyoto University remaining in 65th place. In common with other high-level Asian institutions, both of these universities score very highly in research and teaching metrics, but struggle in terms of international outlook compared to rivals, according to THE.

South Korea increases its representation in both the overall ranking and the elite top 200, with 31 institutions overall, two more than last year. Six of these now feature in the top 200, up from five, making South Korea the second most-represented Asian country.

South Korean universities have particularly high industry and teaching scores but continue the theme among Asian institutions of poorer performance in international outlook, THE says.

In India, the Indian Institute of Science still ranks highest but now shares this position, after dropping into the 301-350 bracket (from 251-300), due to a significant fall in its citation impact score, offsetting improvements in research environment, teaching environment and industry income. Newcomer the Indian Institute of Technology Ropar is joint top, pushing the Indian Institute of Technology Indore, which remains in the 351-400 band, into third place.

Iran sees a significant jump in its representation, with 40 institutions compared to 29 last year. Of note is the Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, which placed highest among Iranian institutions in the 351-400 band with a near-perfect citation score, while Yasouj University debuts strongly (401-500).

Vietnam newly enters with three separate institutions, while the University of Malta and the University of Havana become the first representatives of Malta and Cuba respectively. The Universiti Brunei Darussalam debuts strongly, placing 126th in the world for international outlook and in the 401-500 band overall.


Every European country saw its contingent remain stable or rise compared to the previous year – despite a drop in the region’s average ranking – with Spain being the continent's biggest riser with seven new institutions.

UK universities continue to dominate the European elite – with 28 of Europe’s 97 entries in the global top 200 being British – although Newcastle University drops out of this elite group.

The University of Paris is the highest new entrant in the ranking, debuting in the global top 200 in 130th place. The institution is a recent merger of a research institute and two universities, including Paris Diderot University – Paris 7, which was ranked joint 194th last year.

Italy’s Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa jumps nine places to joint 152nd –leapfrogging the University of Leeds and Arizona State University among others – while Trinity College Dublin drops 44 places to 164th, the biggest fall of any top 200 institution.

Europe stands as the most heavily represented continent in the 2020 rankings, with 505 institutions in total counted. Among the global elite, universities from the continent make up just under half – 97 – of the top 200, although this is two fewer than last year.

Thirty-seven European countries (including Russia) enter into this year’s rankings – two more than previously as Malta and Montenegro enter for the first time – while Iceland stands as the smallest nation (by population) to enter the rankings. Switzerland performs well, with more top 200 universities per capita than any other country.

Europe’s strong placement is due in large part to the consistently good performance of British universities, with the UK providing over a quarter of Europe’s top 200 finishers and just under a fifth of the continent’s total rankings contingent.

But Bothwell, THE’s rankings editor, warned that Europe must overcome serious hurdles if it is to maintain its strong position in future global rankings.

“Economic stagnation and increasingly isolationist political tendencies both threaten the positions of European institutions at a time when international co-operation and investment is key,” she said.

“That being said, however, Europe still performs extremely well in this year’s rankings, clinching first place as well as nearly half the top 200.”

United Kingdom

Oxford once again tops the global ranking, as well as the research environment pillar, and comes joint fifth for teaching environment. Meanwhile, Cambridge drops behind the California Institute of Technology to third despite finishing fourth for teaching and second for research.

Queen Mary University of London is the biggest climber in the UK’s top 200 contingent, rising 20 places to joint 110th place. The University of Liverpool also climbs 16 places to 165th, while the University of St Andrews drops 33 places to joint 198th, and Newcastle University leaves the top 200 entirely following a similar decline.

London-based institutions continue to perform strongly in comparison to other parts of the UK, providing three of the global top 30 and five of the top 200.

Despite this strong performance, however, British universities saw a small drop in average rank, although Scottish institutions performed slightly better. In general, UK institutions tend to place highly for their international outlook but lag behind in their citations and teaching scores.


Germany’s total contingent in the rankings increased by one, to 48, making it the second most-represented European country in the overall rankings. It is also the second most-represented European country in the top 200, with 23 institutions in this group (the same as last year).

The country’s top-performing institution is still LMU Munich, which maintains its joint 32nd position from last year. But perhaps most notable is Bielefeld University, which sees a remarkable rise into the top 200 from the 201-250 band to joint 166th place.

It overtakes Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, which drops 40 places to joint 175th, among others. Meanwhile, the University of Mannheim faces a similar fall of 34 places to joint 157th.

Overall, German institutions see a slight decrease in their average ranking, but still perform better than the European average.

The average international outlook score for the country increases this year, suggesting that the country’s new focus on internationalisation of higher education appears to be delivering some modest initial results, THE said.


France once again increases its representation in the rankings, with 38 institutions, up from 34 last year. Despite this increase, however, France is still only the 12th most-represented country in the 2020 rankings; while it overtakes Australia in terms of overall representation, it falls behind Iran (which now has 40 institutions, up from 29).

The country’s best performing institution is, once again, Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, although it drops four places to joint 45th. Sorbonne University also falls, from 73rd to joint 80th.

Most notably, the newly formed University of Paris enters the rankings in 130th place, while Télécom Paris joins at 188th, increasing France’s top 200 contingent to five (up from four last year).

Existing French institutions also saw some successes, with École Polytechnique rising 15 places to breach the top 100 in 93rd place, thanks to its outstanding international outlook and improved teaching, research and citations scores.


Italy’s top universities once again had a strong year, with all three Italian representatives in the top 200 increasing their rank. Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa once again leads the pack in joint 149th place, up four from last year, despite a slight drop in its teaching score.

Meanwhile, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa rises nine places to joint 152nd and the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest university, consolidates its top 200 position after rising 12 places to joint 168th. Both institutions receive higher scores for research environment and citation impact this year.

Overall, Italy sees a modest increase in its overall representation, with 45 universities, up from 43. This makes Italy the joint third most-represented European country, along with Spain, and the joint eighth most-represented country overall. However, both Italy and Spain have been overtaken by Brazil, which now has 46 representatives, up from 36.


Spain sees a significant jump in its overall representation, with seven new Spanish universities entering the rankings, bringing its total up to 45. The country also retains two universities in the top 200, but both of these decline. Pompeu Fabra University drops eight places to 143rd, while the Autonomous University of Barcelona falls 12 places to joint 157th.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands’ representation in the top 200 continues to slip this year, with 11 of its 13 ranked universities appearing among the global elite, down from 12 last year and all 13 in 2018.

The University of Twente drops out of the top 200 into the 201-250 bracket, having finished joint 184th in the previous ranking. Wageningen University & Research becomes the new Dutch number one, despite maintaining its 59th place (and its joint first-place score in industry income), as previous leader, Delft University of Technology, falls nine places to joint 67th.

The Netherlands has seven institutions in the global top 100 (the same as last year), with most of these positioned between 60th and 70th place.

Latin America

Brazil has 10 more universities than last year, bringing its total up to 46 institutions. This is more than double the number of institutions in its closest rival in Latin America (Chile, with 18) and puts Brazil seventh in the world in terms of overall representation (up from ninth last year), ahead of both Italy and Spain. Brazil also plays host to Latin America’s highest ranked university, the University of São Paolo (251-300 band).

North America

United States

In spite of pressure from rapidly advancing Asian institutions, as well as ever-present competition from Europe, the US continues to dominate the top tier of global higher education. It is the best-represented country in the top 200 with 60 institutions, more than twice its nearest rival (the UK with 28). Several American universities have made great inroads in this elite group, including Boston University (rising 13 places to 61st).

It hasn’t been entirely plain sailing for US institutions, however. Several big names in American higher education see significant drops in their rankings. Arizona State University drops 32 places to joint 155th, Rice University falls 19 places to joint 105th, and Purdue University West Lafayette slips 24 places to 88th.

Baty, THE’s chief knowledge officer, said of North America’s performance: “It’s not surprising to see American dominance of global higher education continue. The US plays host to an incredible number of world-class institutions and many of the most talented academics and students in the world. Encouragingly, success in this year’s rankings was not confined to Ivy League heavyweights."

But he warned that America’s position at the top is not set in stone.

“As time goes on, the level of competition in higher education (particularly from Asia) is only going to intensify and the US will have to work extremely hard to continue to attract the best personnel from across the world and be seen as a welcoming and open place for the best and brightest.”

Top of the pile among US universities is the California Institute of Technology – a which rises three places to second – overtaking Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which drop one place to fourth and fifth respectively, in the process. Princeton University and Harvard University swap places to finish sixth and seventh respectively. Yale University retains its eighth-place position, as the University of Chicago steals ninth place from Imperial College London, which drops to 10th.

Overall, 12 new American institutions enter the rankings, led by Howard University (201-250 band), which receives a particularly high score for the quality of its citations.

The best American institutions are characterised by outstanding scores for teaching environment and, in particular, institutional income. In fact, of the top 10 universities for teaching environment, seven are found in the US (including all of the top three).


North of the border, Canada’s performance is relatively steady. The country’s average placement remains consistent with previous years, while its representation increases from 27 to 30 universities.

Its top performer, the University of Toronto, rises three places into 18th position, while the University of British Columbia climbs three places to 34th. Elsewhere in the global top 200, the University of Ottawa leaps 35 places to joint 141st, overtaking numerous US and European institutions in the process. However, the nation loses two of its top 200 contingent.

Baty said Canada “also deserves a great deal of praise for continuing its record of excellence in teaching and international outlook. The country’s performance was fairly steady in this year’s rankings, although the University of Ottawa merits a special mention for its progress in the top 100.”