US, UK universities lead ‘THE’ rankings but China rising

The top of the latest Times Higher Education or THE World University Rankings, released on Wednesday 27 September, remains dominated by institutions in the United States and United Kingdom, with the University of Oxford from the UK taking top spot for an unprecedented eight consecutive years.

But the upward march of Chinese universities continues.

THE’s World University Rankings 2024 assess research-intensive universities across 18 calibrated performance indicators covering their core missions of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and internationalisation.

In the 20th year of the ranking 1,904 universities – up from 1,799 last year – from 108 countries and regions are ranked.

The US has seven universities in the top 10, led by Stanford University in second place, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology third, Harvard University fourth, Princeton University sixth, California Institute of Technology seventh, the University of California, Berkeley ninth and Yale University 10th.

The US also has 13 in the top 20, 22 in the top 50 and 36 in the top 100 places (from 20 states), with 169 universities featured in the overall ranking – more than any other country. However, the US now accounts for only 9% of institutions in the table.

The UK has three universities in the top 10, with the University of Oxford at first, followed by the University of Cambridge in fifth place and Imperial College London at eighth. The UK has 104 universities ranked – the third highest – with 11 in the top 100 and 25 in the top 200.

But while the US and UK lead the university rankings, their positions and powers are waning.

The ranking data reveal the average rank of US universities has declined from 296 in the 2019 edition to 348 this year. In contrast, the average rank of universities in China, Australia and Canada has improved – from 635 to 502; 322 to 282; and 349 to 337, respectively.

The UK has three fewer universities in the world top 200 since last year – from 28 down to 25.

One of the reasons for the US’ waning performance is falling levels of research funding relative to other countries, according to THE.

In contrast, in China, South Korea, Canada and Australia, universities’ average proportion of research income has increased since 2019, THE says. The US ranks 20th for research income as a proportion of institutional income out of 28 countries with at least 10 universities ranked in the rankings.

Bad signs for US and UK

Phil Baty, THE’s chief government partnerships and global affairs officer, said a longitudinal look at the data finds that American universities’ dominance is being increasingly challenged from East Asian universities, in particular by those from China, but also east Asian neighbours such as South Korea and Singapore are “remaining strong”.

“There’s no doubt this new data provides further, hard evidence that the balance of power in the global research and knowledge economy continues to shift from the West to the East, with potentially profound implications for the world,” Baty said.

“Separately, we are seeing a worrying division between the US’ best, and the rest. While the gap closed marginally this year, the overall trend shows a growing disparity between the country’s elite universities – the top 25% – and the rest.

“This raises challenging questions about unequal access to the best university education across America and the implications for social mobility and economic disparities between US regions,” Baty said.

Baty also warned that THE’s data are showing some trends that threaten the UK’s aspirational status as a world science superpower.

“The UK’s standing among academics worldwide, while still very high, is in steady decline, which can have worrying consequences for future partnerships, investments and collaborations,” he said.

“In addition, our longitudinal analysis suggests that in key metrics the UK is also losing ground to competitors – including research income and research productivity and the attraction of international student talent.”

He added that mainland China had made an extraordinary rise in the rankings over the past 20 years. “In 2004, only four Chinese universities made the top 200 and this year there are 13 and six of those are in the top 60 with Tsinghua and Peking very close to breaking into the top 10.”

This has taken place under the state’s ‘A major country of education’ policy, which has seen the Chinese government consistently invest in higher education, and research and development, for more than two decades, according to Baty.

“Mainland China is a remarkable case study of exceptional, consistent improvement, backed by strong political will and a commitment of generous funding over recent decades. Mainland China now has world-class universities to rival any in the world,” said Baty.

Asia: the most represented region

With 737 universities ranked, Asia is again the most represented continent (and has been since the 2021 edition when it overtook Europe); Europe is second with 664.

China has two universities in the top 20, seven in the top 100 and 13 in the top 200. In the 2018 edition, six years ago, it had two top 100 universities. The number of Chinese institutions in the top 400 of the World University Rankings has doubled from 15 in 2021 to 30 this year.

Tsinghua University is the best-performing Chinese institution, coming 12th, and the country has 86 universities ranked – the fifth highest.

Singapore’s National University of Singapore is 19th, while the country’s other ranked university Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is 32nd. Japan has the second most universities ranked with 119 and the University of Tokyo remains the country’s highest placed university in 29th position.

Japanese universities made significant gains, with the University of Tokyo, the highest ranked university in Japan, coming 29th – the highest position a university in Japan has occupied in the THE ranking since 2015.

India has 91 universities in the ranking, more than ever before. The country’s highest-ranking institution, the Indian Institute of Science, has returned to the global top 250, coming in the 201 to 250 band for the first time since 2017.

India’s northern neighbour Pakistan has 39 ranked universities, with Quaid-i-Azam University the highest placed in band 401 to 500.

Most of Malaysia’s top universities made significant gains. University of Malaya is the highest ranked university in Malaysia, moving up from band 351 to 400 last year to band 251 to 300.

Indonesian universities have, on average, the best student-staff ratios in the world. The country’s score on this metric grew by 42% over five years to 82.4 out of 100, propelling it to the top spot. The analysis only included countries with at least six ranked institutions, and only examined institutions that have been continuously ranked since 2020.

Universities in Thailand made significant gains, with four of the country’s top 11 universities rising up the table and the top two universities making substantial gains, climbing into the top 800.

Setbacks for Australia and New Zealand

Baty noted that the data from this year’s World University Rankings provide serious warning signs for Australia because its relative isolation during the pandemic is having a negative impact on its ranking position.

All of Australia’s 10 top-ranked universities fell places this year, as did New Zealand’s top-ranked University of Auckland.

The average international student metric score for Australia has dropped sharply by almost four points due to a reduction in the percentage of international students from 30% to 26%.

New Zealand suffered a similar drop as its percentage of international students decreased from 31% to 27%. Its international co-authorship metric also suffered a 12-point drop.

“Real attention is needed to ensure Australia continues to be open to international talent, which includes the right policy incentives as competition for international talent heats up with possible shifts in the market,” Baty said.

He also pointed out that while the rankings show Australia has historically very high levels of research quality, current figures show a relative under-investment in research.

He added that the rankings data show that all of New Zealand’s international outlook metrics have fallen.

“Auckland continues to be a major national flagship – sitting in the world top 150 list – but that status cannot be taken for granted amid intensifying international competition for talent,” he said.

Europe: Second most represented continent

Europe has long had a good showing, with 664 ranked institutions this year – the second most represented continent after Asia.

Within Europe, the best represented countries are nearly all in Western Europe. The UK has 104 ranked universities, Italy and Spain have 56, Germany 49 and France 44.

Four countries joined the rankings for the first time and all of them are from Eastern Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Armenia and North Macedonia.

However, Europe’s representation in the elite end of the rankings has been shrinking over time. It now has 91 of the top 200 universities, a drop of eight universities, from 99 in 2019. The UK suffers the biggest drop this year, losing three entries in the top 200, with other European countries remaining relatively stable.

On average, when comparing the top 10 European countries with the most ranked universities, the UK, Italy and Germany have the best research quality scores on the continent, THE says. The UK leads the continent in international outlook, followed by France and Germany. France, Germany and Italy all beat the UK in industry scores, reflecting stronger collaboration between their higher education sectors and industry.

In Europe, outside the UK, Switzerland’s ETH Zurich is the highest ranked institution in 11th place.

Germany has 49 universities ranked, with Technical University of Munich the highest placed institution in joint 30th. The country has eight universities in the top 100 and 21 in the top 200. But seven of its top 10 ranked universities fell places this year.

France has one university in the top 50, four in the top 100, five in the top 200 and 10 in the top 400. Three of its leading universities made significant headway in the rankings this year:

• Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris is the highest ranked university in France, moving up seven places – from 47th last year to reach the world top 40.

• Université Paris-Saclay is the second highest ranked university in France coming 58th, up 35 places from 93rd last year.

• Institut Polytechnique de Paris also moved up significantly from joint 95th last year to 71st this year. Sorbonne University moves from 90th to 75th place this year.

The highest ranked university in Spain is University of Barcelona, which improved in the ranking this year, moving up 30 places from 182nd to joint 152nd.

Turkey’s highest ranked universities are Koç University, Middle East Technical University and Sabanc University, all of which moved up the ranking from last year to band 351-400.

Middle East nations thrive

Middle East and North African nations are thriving, led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, with all three countries featuring universities in the top 250. Egypt’s Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST), which was not ranked last year, comes in as the country’s highest ranked university in band 601 to 800.

Africa has seen participation increase by 16% year-on-year with rankings increasing from 97 to 113 institutions – the biggest increase of all continents. The highest-ranking university in Africa is University of Cape Town (UCT) at 167th place.

South Africa’s top three universities – UCT, Stellenbosch University and University of Witwatersrand – all fell in the ranking. The University of Johannesburg improved significantly this year and is now in the 401 to 500 band after being in the 601 to 800 band last year and is now the fourth highest ranked university in South Africa. This year there are 12 South African universities in the ranking.

Latin American entries increase

The Latin America and Caribbean region sees a record 144 universities from 12 countries ranked. Colombia and Chile have a high number of new entrants, with six newly ranked universities for Colombia, five for Chile and two for Brazil. Colombia’s University of la Costa is the highest-ranked new joiner in Latin America, ranked in the 801 to 1,000 band.

Mexico’s two highest ranked universities, Monterrey Institute of Technology and National Autonomous University of Mexico, both jumped up a band from 801 to 1,000 last year to 601 to 800 and from 1,001 to 1,200 last year to 801 to 1,000 respectively.

Brazil’s University of São Paulo remains the highest ranked institution in the region in the 201 to 250 band. The regional top three is completed by Brazil’s University of Campinas, 351 to 400, and Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, in the 401 to 500 band.

165 universities ranked for first time

Overall, some 165 universities are ranked for the first time: 89 from Asia, 38 from Europe, 19 from Africa, 14 from South America and five from North America.

At the country level, there are: 20 newly ranked universities from India, 14 from Turkey and 11 from Pakistan. Among these 165 universities, Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea has the best performance and is ranked in the 351 to 400 band.

Methodology updates

Several updates have been made to the World University Rankings 2024 methodology.

This year there are 18 calibrated performance indicators (up from 13 last year), which are grouped into five pillars: teaching, research quality, research environment, international outlook and industry. Four of the five new metrics include three that look at research quality and one that examines patents in the industry pillar.

Producing the global ranking is a mammoth data exercise, with input from an academic survey and bibliometrics on the tally of research papers and citations, as well as the data from institutions.

For this year’s table, THE worked with more than 400,000 data values and has resolved more than 30,000 queries.

THE’s bibliometric data supplier Elsevier has analysed 16.5 million research papers, which is 1 million more than last year. Additionally, 134 million citations have been examined, compared with last year’s 121 million.