US in prolonged decline, Canada reversing stagnation

Overall, 177 American universities are ranked out of a total of 1,300 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2022. But of these 177, some 91 have declined in rank (51.4%), while 29 improve their position (16.4%); 38 remain neutral within their rank or band (21.5%) and 19 are new entrants into the table.

Although Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) celebrates an unprecedented, unbroken decade as the world’s top university, the overall picture of a downward trend is better reflected in Harvard University (fifth) falling to its lowest position in the history of the rankings.

California Institute of Technology (sixth) falls out of the top five for the first time since 2015, while Cornell University (21st) loses its top-20 position for the first time since 2004 – the inaugural iteration of the tables. Duke University also falls to its joint-record low, ranking 52nd – the second time in 18 editions that it has not attained a top-50 rank.

The US’s top 10 universities were Massachusetts Institute of Technology (first), Stanford (joint third), Harvard (fifth), California Institute of Technology (sixth), University of Chicago (10th), University of Pennsylvania (13th), Yale University (joint 14th), Columbia University (19th), Princeton University (20th) and Cornell University (21st).

Ben Sowter, director of research at QS, said the US higher education has experienced a state of “prolonged decline” over the past five years, reflected in falling reputational scores, for example, or reduction in relative research impact results, much of which is attributable to the intense competition it is facing from well-funded peers abroad.

“However, this is not the full story: 120 of the US’s 177 ranked universities have recorded a decline in their score for our International Student Ratio indicator – corroborating other sources that capture the increasing reticence among international students to invest in an American education.”

Canadian higher education has begun to reverse consecutive years of stagnation, with more than half of its ranked universities improving their global rank. The highest-profile improvement in position is experienced by McGill University, which, rising from 31st to 27th, re-enters the world’s top 30 for the first time in five editions.

The national leader remains the University of Toronto (26th, down one place) for the fifth consecutive year. Its continued ascendency is the result of being held in higher esteem than any of its compatriots by both academics and employers surveyed by QS.

This year’s edition of the QS World University Rankings therefore represents the first time in six years that two Canadian universities have attained a top-30 rank. As recently as 2018, no Canadian university was placed among the top 30.

In total QS ranks 28 Canadian universities, of which 16 improved their overall rank, seven declined, three remained neutral within their rank or band, and two – University of New Brunswick and Brock University – are new participants in the rankings this year.

Systemic Canadian improvements in the ranking have stemmed from a strong performance in the Employer Reputation metric, with 19 increasing their performance and seven decreasing; and in the Citations per Faculty metric, where 16 institutions increased their performance against nine achieving a lower score.

Sowter said: “Over the past half-decade, the somewhat-steady, somewhat-stagnant performance of Canada’s universities has perhaps been lost amid a focus on the rise of China, Malaysia and Russia; and the decline of the United States in our rankings.”

He noted that over the last five years, only Harvard University has produced more academic papers than the University of Toronto.