US universities lead in 28 of 51 subjects ranked by QS
The 12th edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject, released on 6 April by international higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, names the world’s top universities for the study of 51 academic disciplines and five broad faculty areas.
The rankings provide independent comparative analysis of the performance of15,200 individual university programmes taken by students at 1,543 universities which can be found in 88 locations across the world.
The most represented study destinations in this edition for the total number of entries among the 51 subjects’ tables are the United States (3,136), the United Kingdom (second with 1,465), mainland China (third with 771 entries), and Australia (fourth with 739).
In terms of the number of top-50 entries, the US continues to prevail with 825, and is followed by the UK with 382, Australia (192) and Canada (153).
China (mainland) is in fifth place globally with 100 programmes in the top 50, down by more than a fifth on a record-breaking 123 in 2021.
Despite the drop, China has the third-highest number of universities (93) ranked – of which 10 are new entries – after the UK (105) and US (227). The country has seen its number of ranked universities rise steadily over the years: in 2018 there were 74 universities featured in these rankings.
However, no single university has a larger number of top-50 programmes than Canada’s University of Toronto at 46.
In terms of rankings per entry, New Zealand came top with 23.1, followed by Canada 20.2, Australia 20.0, Hong Kong SAR 19.8, and Belgium 19.6.
Overall, US institutions lead in 28 of the 51 subjects ranked.
Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) remain the top performers, each offering 12 of the world’s best university departments. However, they fail to extend the gap further between themselves and their closest competitor: the University of Oxford’s share of number-one spots has increased from five to six year on year.
Fifteen subject tables are topped by a UK university, with the University of Oxford leading in six.
ETH Zurich is continental Europe’s top university, achieving number-one spots in three subjects.
The National University of Singapore – Asia’s best-performing university – is the world’s best for petroleum engineering. NUS ranks among the top 10 in 16 disciplines.
Universidad de Chile achieves Latin America’s highest rank, eighth globally in engineering – mineral and mining.
Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town remains Africa’s most competitive institution, being placed ninth globally in development studies.
And King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, sixth globally for petroleum engineering, achieves the Arab region’s highest rank.
QS Research Director Ben Sowter said: “Observing performance trends across over 15,000 university departments enables us to see which factors influence success.
“First, an international outlook – both in terms of faculty body and research relationships – correlates strongly with improved performance. Second, rising universities received targeted investment from governments for over a decade. Last, strengthening relationships with industry correlates with better employment, research, and innovation outcomes.”
Below is an outline of trends and performances by regions and key countries.
Africa had a poor year. Of 225 ranked departments – at 31 universities in eight countries – 107 remained static year on year, 64 were down places, and 29 had gone up, while 25 were new entries.
South Africa had one in the top 10, two in the top 20 and four in the top 50. Uganda was the only other African country to have one in the top 50.
The South African higher education system remains the continental leader, accounting for 55% of all the African university departments ranked.
It is also the only regional country to achieve one top-10 rank position (the University of Cape Town at ninth globally in development studies – up one place), one top-20 position (the University of Witwatersrand at 15th globally in engineering – mineral and mining), and a total of four top-50 positions: the University of Witwatersrand at 22nd globally in development studies (up five places); and the University of Pretoria which ranks 33rd globally in engineering – mineral and mining (up 15 places).
Uganda is the only other African country to feature among the top 50, with Makerere University placing 39th globally in development studies (up six places).
Egypt is the second-best performing higher education system in the region, accounting for 37% of all the African university departments ranked. It takes eight top-100 spots and 23 top-200. On average its ranked universities saw 6.5 of their departments recognised among the world’s best.
Kenya is the third African country to achieve a place among the world’s top 100, with the University of Nairobi debuting in development studies (51-100). Its other two entries are in agriculture and forestry (301-350, unchanged year on year), and in medicine (451-500, up one band).
Saudi Arabia is confirmed the regional leader while the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Jordan achieve record numbers of ranked subjects compared to previous editions.
Fifty-two Arab region universities feature in this edition of the QS World University Ranking by Subject, with 324 programmes ranked: in 2022, 42 drop; 121 are unchanged; and 64 are new entries.
The top regional university is Saudi’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, ranking sixth globally in petroleum engineering and 16th globally in mineral and mining engineering The second-best regional university is UAE’s Khalifa University, which breaks into the top 20 in petroleum engineering.
Qatar has the highest ratio of university/ranked programmes.
Singapore is the only Asian country with a top-one entry and leads on the number of programmes in top-10 positions: Singapore (23), Hong Kong SAR (7), China (mainland) (4) and Japan (3).
Asia’s top-10 universities in terms of the number of top-50 programmes are: the University of Tokyo and the National University of Singapore, both with 37; followed by Seoul National University, South Korea, and Peking University in China, both with 33; Tsinghua University in China, with 27; the University of Hong Kong with 26; Nanyang Technological University in Singapore with 25; Chinese University of Hong Kong with 19; and Kyoto University in Japan and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology both with 14.
In this edition, 54.7% of the Chinese programmes decline, 24.5% maintain the same rank and 11.8% improve.
While Chinese representation across the top-50 spots has dropped, on a positive note, China achieves its highest number of ranked university programmes to date at 771, and 71 are new entries. Only the United Kingdom (1,225 ranked programmes) and the United States (2,571) have more entries.
The top-10 subjects for number of Chinese programmes ranked are: chemistry (47), materials science (46), biological sciences (42), physics and astronomy (38), environmental sciences (37), computer science and information systems (36), mathematics (35), engineering – electrical and electronic (34), engineering – mechanical, aeronautical and manufacturing (33), and engineering – chemical (33).
There are 23 Chinese entries among the top 20. Peking University and Tsinghua University boast nine entries apiece, with the latter appearing among the top 10 in three subjects. The highest-ranked programme in China (mainland) is offered by China Agriculturl University which places fifth globally in its discipline.
Sowter said: “After decades of reform, China today has an education system that serves the industrial economy well although gaps in access, quality, and relevance in education remain.
“There is now an even larger transformative reform to implement: delivering the skills needed for the digital economy, while promoting lifelong learning, and ensuring that the system is equitable.
“The Chinese universities play a pivotal role in this transformation, and our rankings reflect how world-class excellence is distributed across key disciplines.”
The Japanese higher education system is still in relative decline after decades of underfunding for research and PhD students. This has left its higher education sector struggling to keep pace with its continental and global peers.
Significantly, 48% of Japan’s featured programmes have fallen in rank this year, 32% remain stable while only 16% improve their position.
Singapore is home to more world-class programmes than any other Asian higher education system: it has three times as many top-10 programmes as Hong Kong SAR’s seven, and just under six times as many as China’s four.
The National University of Singapore takes its only number-one spot with petroleum engineering but is Asia’s best-performing university, ranking in the top 10 in 16 disciplines.
Hong Kong SAR
Hong Kong SAR is the second-best higher education system in Asia – behind Singapore – for the number of university departments ranked among the world’s top 10, with seven, which is three more than last year.
It has been a promising year for the Malaysian higher education sector, which recorded year-on-year increases in the number of Malaysian programmes achieving both top-100 and top-200 ranks.
Some 37 Malaysian programmes are placed among the top-100 universities for the study of their academic subject. This is six more than last year, with Universiti Malaya entering the top 100 for law (91st), economics (100th), architecture (51-100), and social policy and administration (51-100).
The number of top-200 Malaysian programmes has also risen from 94 to 101 year on year.
It was a good year for India, with 35 Indian programmes achieving top-100 positions – 10 more than in 2021’s edition of the tables.
Among the eight declared public Institutes of Eminence, four and half years after the scheme was launched by the University Grants Commission, four have increased their representation among the global top 100.
Sowter said: “One of the biggest challenges faced by India is educational – providing high-quality tertiary education in the face of exploding demand: this much was recognised by 2020’s National Education Plan, which set the ambitious target of a 50% gross enrolment ratio by 2035.”
He said it should therefore provide some reassurance that the number of Indian programmes featuring across the 51 subject rankings has increased this year – from 233 to 274 – where it had been decreasing previously.
Regionally, India is the fourth best represented higher education system for number of entries, and it is joint fifth for number of top-200 entries.
There are 739 Australian entries for the academic disciplines ranked, of which 30 are brand new, 272 maintain the same year-on-year position, 240 decline, and 197 improve.
Australia is the fourth most represented country for the number of entries. Notably, Australia is also the third best performer in this edition for total number of top-50 entries and top-100 entries.
Monash University is Australia’s top-performing institution, taking the number one spot in pharmacy.
The other top performers are Curtin University and the University of Queensland, ranking second globally in engineering – mineral and mining, and sports-related subjects respectively.
The Australian National University breaks among the world’s top three for philosophy.
For engineering – mineral and mining, UNSW Sydney breaks into the top three and the University of Western Australia into the top five globally.
The University of Adelaide enters into the top 10 for petroleum engineering.
The most-ranked Australian universities in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022 are the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney, with 48 entries apiece.
Sowter said: “Our research data shows Australia is one of the world’s top collaborators for international research. For the International Research Network indicator, this edition of the rankings sees Australia claiming a larger share of institutions achieving top-10 scores than any other country.
“In terms of sheer research output, the top-three Australian institutions are the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.”
The continent (excluding the UK) accounts for 37% of all ranked programmes and faculties but only 12% of the world’s top three subjects, compared to the US’s 49% share and the UK’s 31%.
QS records 1,252 rises in rank among European institutions, compared to 1,164 drops, a stark improvement on last year when 1,404 institutions fell and only 866 rose.
Institutions from European countries are still dominating, however, in terms of the number of top-50 programmes, led by ETH Zurich, Switzerland; KU Leuven, Belgium; and University of Copenhagen, Denmark – all on 20.
They are followed by the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands with 19. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität-München in Germany, France’s Sorbonne University and the Netherland’s Delft University are joint fifth with 16 apiece. Switzerland’s EPFL and Germany’s Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin are joint eighth with 12 each.
Switzerland’s ETH Zurich remains the world’s number-one institution for three subjects – geology, geophysics, and earth and marine sciences – more than any other continental European institution.
Switzerland is also home to seven of the world’s top-10 schools for hospitality and leisure management. EHL Hospitality Business School is the world leader, with the Swiss Hotel Management School coming third.
QS also finds that, based on the number of programmes ranking among the global top 10 for their subject (up from 29 in 2021, 26 in 2020 and 22 in 2019), Switzerland is the world’s third-best higher education system.
The German higher education sector possesses particular strengths in the arts and humanities but has seen some notable drop-offs.
For example, four of the world’s top-20 universities for classics and ancient history are German and continue to improve: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (fifth), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (fourth, up by four), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (14th, up by two), and Freie Universität Berlin (11th, up by eight).
However, QS has also recorded a steady decrease in the overall number of German departments ranking among the global top 50 in their academic discipline over the years.
In 2019’s edition of the QS World University Rankings, 97 German programmes achieved top-50 places. This number dropped to 95 in 2020, and again to 92 in 2021. It retains this number in 2022.
In France, INSEAD’s business and management studies programme comes second only to Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, Sciences Po Paris falls to third for politics and international studies, after being leapfrogged by the University of Oxford.
Two Dutch university programmes have ranked as the world’s best place to study their academic discipline. Wageningen University has been named the world’s best university for the study of agriculture and forestry, while the University of Amsterdam is the global number-one in QS’s communication and media studies ranking.
Ireland had a good year with the 11 Irish universities ranked obtaining 94 places in this edition, 19 places up year on year.
Remaining resilient in the face of unique challenges and staying at the cutting edge of research into humanity’s biggest challenges, the United Kingdom’s higher education sector is home to over one quarter (28%) of the world’s best university programmes.
Fifteen UK university departments are named the world’s best place to study their particular subject.
This edition of the rankings features 105 UK institutions, 10 more than five years ago. They cumulatively rank 1,465 times across the 51 subject tables.
Compared to last year’s rankings, 38.9% (571) of the UK rank positions are unchanged, 37.3% (547) improved, 30.7% (450) declined and 8.3% (122) are brand new entries.
The UK boasts world leaders in 15 subjects, two more than last year. The new leaders are the University of Oxford which now shares the top spot with the University of Cambridge in anthropology, and the Royal College of Music, the world’s best in performing arts.
The University of Oxford is responsible for more of these number-one positions than any other UK institution: it ranks as the world leader for anatomy and physiology, English language and literature, geography, modern languages, and anthropology.
In addition, it has become the new world leader in theology, and divinity and religious studies (rising two places year on year), but is no longer the top player in pharmacy and pharmacology, having dropped to third place in this edition.
The United Kingdom’s top universities in QS 2022 global ranking for medicine – King’s College London (16th, up one place), Imperial College London (eighth, up two places), UCL (seventh, up two places), and the University of Oxford (second) – account for approximately one third of Britain’s published papers on COVID-19.
Over the past two years, only China and the United States have offered a proportionally stronger contribution to international COVID-19 research.
The United Kingdom remains a leading contributor to climate-change-combatting environmental science research. Only China and the United States have contributed more to research in this field.
This is reflected in strong performances in the 2022 environmental science ranking, with the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge joint sixth, and Imperial College London (11th) among 42 British universities featured in the table.
Sowter said: “Facing Brexit disruption, funding difficulties, the need to prepare students for success in a weakened employment market, and the immediate and long-term effects of a global pandemic, it is not unreasonable to state that the next decade will be a uniquely challenging one for all those involved in British higher education.
“However, the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject provides compelling evidence that the country’s universities are eminently capable of not only navigating these difficulties, but also continuing to play a leading role in the global response to the most urgent issues facing humanity.”
The rankings include 781 university programmes at 103 Latin American universities, across 51 academic disciplines. Additionally, the rankings include 124 Latin American university departments recognised as world class across the five broad faculty areas.
The overall dataset illuminates a picture of a much more stable continent than last year, but one still struggling to keep pace with the rate of research, levels of employer recognition and global collaboration enjoyed by their international peers.
Of the total 905 entries from Latin America in the rankings, 234 have improved their position year on year while 226 have fallen in rank. This is a stark improvement on last year in which only 97 improved in rank and 191 fell down the table.
Chile is the only Latin American country with a university department among the world’s top 10. There are only three Latin American university departments among the world’s top 10: Brazil, Chile and Mexico have one apiece.
Brazil is the regional leader for number of ranked universities (32), and number of ranked programmes in the bands top 50 to top 200.
Mexico is the second-best performer regionally for number of ranked universities (18) and number of ranked programmes in the bands top 50 and top 100.
In the top-200 band, Chile has one more ranked programme (131) than Mexico (130).
The ranked Colombian and Brazilian universities achieve an average of 8.4 entries in the rankings. The regional average is 4.9 entries per university.
Based on their share of top-50 ranked university departments, Argentina and Colombia are the fourth best regionally.
Chile is home to Latin America’s highest-ranked subject with Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile’s mineral and mining engineering in eighth place.
Latin American universities enjoy particularly strong representation in QS’s agriculture and forestry, and petroleum engineering rankings. Forty-three of the world’s top-400 agriculture and forestry departments are in Latin America – just over one in 10. Of these, 15 are in Brazil.
In QS’s petroleum engineering ranking, which identifies those universities doing most to conduct innovative research into the future of this energy source, 11 of the global top-100 departments are from Latin American universities.
Anthropology also represents a strong suit for Latin America, with seven universities across five countries ranked in the top 100 in the world for the field.
Despite losing some ground, the US remains at the forefront of research into humanity’s biggest challenges and is home to more than half of the world’s best university departments, QS reports.
The 2022 comparison offers data on the performance of 3,136 departments at 227 American universities, across 51 academic disciplines.
It is not only Harvard and MIT that assert their status as world leaders in specific academic disciplines. The list of American number ones also includes:
• New York University, which ranks as the world’s best philosophy school.
• The Colorado School of Mines, holding top spot for mineral and mining engineering.
• The University of Pennsylvania, number one for nursing.
• The top spot for environmental sciences is a tie between Stanford University and Harvard University.
However, the American share of number-one spots (28/51, 53%) has declined year on year. Five years ago, the US held 71% of the top positions (34/48). Its share of top-10 positions has also declined slightly (239 vs 245 in 2021).
Nevertheless, American universities continue to dominate global rankings, driven by a strong emphasis on research to tackle global challenges. For instance, no country has produced more research into COVID-19 than the United States, which has been responsible for one quarter of all academic inquiry into the disease and its prevention, spread, treatment and socio-economic implications.
The United States also remains the world leader for climate change research, recording 16% of all environmental science papers indexed by Scopus. It is also responsible for more medical research than any other nation (23%).
Sowter said: “The past few years have provided increasing evidence of the difficulties faced by American higher education: the competitiveness and economic strength of peer institutions, an often-adversarial political environment, and the challenges often created by dwindling public funding.
“This year’s results reflect these challenges but should provide some reassurance that, while those obstacles persist, American institutions are continuing to drive research and the practical innovation necessary for the world to combat climate change, COVID, and other major health challenges – and they are often doing so more than any other higher education sector in the world.”
According to QS, the Canadian higher education sector is at its strongest point in four years in respect of rankings by subject.
The data show that the University of Toronto possesses the highest number of world-class programmes than any other university in the world, with 46 top-50 entries.
Nineteen programmes achieve top-10 positions in their subject, consistent with the 2021 performance – a year that followed a steady increase year on year (18 in 2020, 15 in 2019). A total of 49 programmes are ranked among the global top 20, four less than last year; and 153 programmes achieve top-50 ranks, down one from last year which followed steady improvements over the past four years.
Ben Sowter said: “With 6% of all Canadian programmes attaining a top-50 position across our tables, only Australia (7%), the United Kingdom (15%), and the United States (32%) possess a higher share of world-class departments.
“While we observe particularly strong representation for Canadian institutions in subjects like mining engineering, and library and information management, there is no subject in which Canadian higher education is not offering outstanding provision.”
Canada’s highest-ranked university programme is the University of British Columbia’s sports-related subjects department which has risen from fourth to third globally.
At an institutional level, the University of British Columbia features in 48 of QS’s 51 rankings, with 39 top-50 programmes; McGill University is ranked in 43 subject tables and achieves a top-50 rank in 31 of them; and the University of Alberta places in 38 subject tables, achieving top-10 ranks for petroleum engineering (eighth) and nursing (ninth).