Russia and China rising in university ranking by subject

Chinese higher education continues to show improvements in the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject, with a record number of programmes now achieving a top-50 rank. Russian higher education continues to strengthen, with a record number of departments achieving top-20 places.

But it has been a disappointing performance for Australia, with its lowest number of programmes ranking among the top 10 in the world in the past three years. Its total of 13 top-10 departments is fewer than in 2020 (17) and 2019 (18), and two-thirds of Australian National University’s programmes have fallen year-on-year.

Some 126 Chinese programmes are ranked among the world’s top 50 in their subject, a record high, up from 100 in 2020, and 97 in 2019.

There are now 47 Russian university departments ranked among the global top 100 compared to 22 in 2018, and 14 in the top 50 compared to eight in 2018, and Project 5-100 universities are continuing to make good progress with 124 programmes ranked.

Jack Moran, QS spokesperson, said: “The relentless rise of Chinese universities has been the most significant global trend in higher education since we began ranking institutions nearly two decades ago. We have observed, for example, that China now trains more PhD students than the United States.”

Ben Sowter, senior vice president of professional services at QS, said Russia has empowered its universities by directing funding to high-potential institutions. “Now we are seeing the positive results of these sensible decisions in our global ranking exercise.”

Among countries with top-50 programmes, however, the dominant force remains the United States (33%), followed by the United Kingdom (15%), Australia (8%) and Canada (6%).

The US higher education system is recovering ground lost over the past two years and remains home to nearly half of the world’s best ranked university departments.

It has 30 top-performing departments and the trend of a rise after two years of decline in its number of top-10 programmes over the past four years – falling from 236 in 2018 to 235 in 2019 and 222 in 2020 but rising to 244 in 2021 – is echoed in the top-20, top-50 and top-100 tables.

The UK’s higher education sector remains resilient. Thirteen of the 51 subject tables are topped by a British university, with the University of Oxford leading five of those 13.

Conversely, Japanese higher education is in relative decline after decades of underfunding for research and PhD students.

Also, India’s ‘Institutes of Eminence’ programme is struggling to yield results, with no increase in top-100 representation for India’s public institutions identified as Institutes of Eminence.

Mainland Europe, with 40% of ranked programmes, remains a dominant higher education ecosystem globally, but saw 1,404 programmes fall compared to 860 rising in rank.

Latin America is still struggling to keep pace with the rate of research improvements and levels of employer recognition enjoyed by their international peers. Of the 667 ranked programmes, 191 have fallen in rank, while 97 have improved their year-on-year position.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, the dominant force with nearly a third of the region’s ranked programmes, saw 43% of its ranked programmes rise and only 2% fall.

African universities have 17 departments in top-100 places, but only three in scientific or technological disciplines, and of the 135 programmes ranked last year, although most remained stable, twice as many declined (33) compared to the number that rose (16).

QS or Quacquarelli Symonds – the international higher education think-tank – released the 11th edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject on 3 March, providing an independent comparative analysis on the performance of13,883 individual university programmestaken by students at1,440 universities in85 locations across the world,across 51 academic disciplines.

Moran said: “Observing performance trends across nearly 14,000 university departments enables us to draw some conclusions about the commonalities between nations that are improving and nations that are not.”

He said three factors stand out.

“First, an international outlook – both in terms of faculty body and research relationships – correlates strongly with improved performance.

“Second, rising universities have received strong targeted investment from governments over a decade or more – particularly in China, Russia and Singapore.

“Third, improving relationships with industry is correlated with better employment, research, and innovation outcomes.”

Harvard and MIT lead the world

Leading US institutions Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are the strongest-performing institutions globally, ranking number one in 12 subjects.

But no university has a larger number of top-50 departments than Canada’s University of Toronto (46), which outperforms the University of California, Los Angeles in the US (43) and the University of British Columbia (41), also in Canada.

Switzerland’s ETH Zurich is continental Europe’s top university, achieving number-one spots for geology, geophysics, and earth and marine sciences. Based on its share of top-10 ranks, Switzerland is the world’s third-best higher education sector.

Backed by a decade of strong investment and endowments, two Singaporean universities hold number-one positions: Nanyang Technological University is #1 for materials science, while the National University of Singapore – Asia’s best-performing university – is #1 for petroleum engineering.

Driven by world-class performances in dentistry, petroleum engineering and mining engineering, Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil has retained its status as Latin America’s best-performing university in this exercise.

South Africa’s University of Cape Town remains Africa’s most competitive institution, with 24 of its programmes placing among the top 200.

The QS World University Rankings by Subject are part of the annual QS World University Rankings portfolio, which was consulted over 147 million times in 2020, and was covered 98,000 times by media and institutions.

University World News will be providing more analysis of regional performances in next week’s edition. All data has been supplied by QS.