Subject ranking: US-UK bloc still on top but diversity grows
The THE World University Rankings 2024 by subject, released on 26 October 2023, measures performance across 11 key subjects and is compiled from data from THE’s World University Rankings 2024, a comprehensive global ranking assessing research-intensive universities from 108 countries and regions.
Universities from the US and UK take the number one positions across all 11 of the subject rankings, and three subjects – arts and humanities, life sciences and social sciences – have only UK and US universities in the top 10 this year. However, compared to World University Rankings 2020 the US-UK bloc is less prominent in the top 50 in social sciences, education, business and economics.
Phil Baty, THE chief global affairs officer, said: “THE World University Rankings by subject provide further evidence of a clear trend, which we also saw in the World Rankings, of the waning dominance of US-UK universities in higher education …
“East Asian nations continue to strengthen in key areas with Chinese universities, in particular, standing out, as well as those in Hong Kong and Singapore.”
The subject ranking uses the same 18 performance indicators (up from 13 last year) as the World University Rankings, 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.
For subjects, the methodology is carefully recalibrated for each subject, with the weightings changed to suit the individual fields, according to the THE press release.
The UK’s University of Oxford claims the top spot in both clinical and health and computer science. US universities are first in the other nine subjects: arts and humanities, business and economics, education, engineering, law, life sciences, physical sciences, psychology and social sciences. According to the THE press release, the UK’s overall score has improved in all subjects this year
Harvard University and Stanford University in the United States top the most subject areas at three each. Harvard University tops engineering, law and life sciences, while Stanford tops arts and humanities, psychology and is joint top with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in social sciences. MIT comes top in business and economics (and joint top in social sciences).
Despite this dominance, according to the THE press release, there is a greater diversity of universities and countries excelling across subject rankings. Such diversity in the top positions is “most evident” when compared with the subject rankings from 2020, especially in social science, education, business and economics, it said.
For example, five years ago, only the US and UK universities featured in the top 10 in business and economics ranking. This year, two places are taken up by Chinese institutions: Tsinghua University and Peking University, the THE said.
In education, five years ago, nine of the top 10 places were held by the US and UK institutions, with Hong Kong taking the other place. This year education’s top 10 has universities from five countries: China, Canada, Hong Kong, the US and UK.
In addition, five years ago 62% of the top 50 universities were from the US and UK and this year it is 52%, and universities from 15 countries are represented this year compared with 12 in the 2020 edition.
64% of the top 50 universities in the social sciences ranking consisted of US and UK institutions five years ago and this year it is 60% and universities from 14 countries are represented this year compared with 12 in the 2020 edition.
In the top 50, Germany and Netherlands are the two best performing countries in Europe per number of universities ranked in the top 50 of each subject.
According to the press release, some of the best universities in the world in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are in the Middle East and North Africa while other blocs are more focused on non-STEM subjects including Southern and Eastern Europe.
Sub-Saharan African countries do best in clinical and health while North African and Arabic countries focus on computer science, engineering and physical sciences, it said.
North Europe’s focus is on science, while South and East Europe are more focused on the humanities and South America is ‘more focused’ on non-scientific subjects.
An overview of the performance of universities in the 11 subject areas is set out below.
Arts and humanities
Only universities from the US (eight) and UK (three) feature in the top 10 in arts and humanities. The top two positions are taken by Stanford and MIT in the US, followed by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the UK in third and fourth place. The only other UK university is UCL at No 6. The University of Chicago and Columbia University share the 10th spot.
The University of Barcelona, Spain enters the top 100 in joint 87th place, up from band 151-175 while Indiana University in the US also enters the top 100 in 93rd place from band 126-150 last year.
Business and economics
United States universities take the top four spots in business and economics, led by MIT, Stanford, Harvard (up one place from fourth to third) and the University of California Berkeley, followed by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford at fifth and sixth positions respectively.
Two Chinese universities feature in the top 10: Peking University (for the first time in the top 10) at No 10; and Tsinghua University, unchanged at No 8.
The University of Reading and University of Massachusetts are new entries to the top 100 this year at 79th and joint 80th, respectively. (They were previously in bands 101-125 and 126-150 respectively).
Clinical and health
UK and US universities fill all the top 10 spots except for No 9 which is taken by the University of Toronto in Canada. The UK takes four of the top 10 spots, down from five last year. The University of Oxford leads the list followed by Harvard University (US) and the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London (both UK).
According to the THE press release, Johns Hopkins University in the US, which dropped out of the top 10 last year, coming 11th, has re-entered the top 10, moving up five places to No 6.
Another US university, the University of Pennsylvania, enters the top 10, coming 10th – up five places from 15th last year, while the UK's King's College London drops out of the top 10, falling to 13th place.
Once again the US and UK fill the top 10 places in computer science, with the exception of fifth place which is taken by ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The University of Oxford leads the top 10, followed by Stanford University, MIT and Carnegie Mellon University.
The UK’s Imperial College London at No 8 enters the Top 10 from joint 11th last year, while the US’ Princeton University also enters the top 10, moving from joint 11th last year to 9th place this year.
In the top 100, Aarhus University in Denmark moves up from band 126-150 last year to joint 93rd this year, while Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan also moves into the top 100 from the 126-150 to joint 97th.
India leads the rise in new entrants in computer science with 14 institutions (compared with last year). However, only one of those universities is in the 101-125 band and the rest are in band 401-500 or lower, according to the press release.
Besides US and UK universities, three places in the education subject top 10 are taken by universities from outside the US and UK: the University of Hong Kong at No 6, Tsinghua University from China (for the first time) at 7th and the University of Toronto, Canada at 9th.
According to the THE press release, the top 100 for education has shown increasing diversification with six new countries joining this group: Austria, Brazil, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Russian Federation. Education is also the best ranked subject in China, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Spain.
While Michigan State University in the US falls out of the top 10 after re-entering the category last year, the University of Alberta in Canada joins the top 100, coming joint 75th. The Netherlands’ University of Groningen also joins the top 100 at 80th, up from band 126-150.
The United States dominates the top 10 with six entries and takes the top three positions with the University of Harvard, Stanford University and MIT, followed by the UK universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Imperial College London in the UK enters at No 10, up four places from 14th last year. Apart from US and UK universities, the National University of Singapore is the only other institution from another country at No 9.
In the top 100, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, France moves from band 101-125 to 99th place, while India has the most new entrants in the subject of engineering with 20 (compared with last year). However, only one of those universities is in the 101-125 band and the rest are in band 301-400 or lower.
The United States has seven universities listed in the top 10 for law, led by Harvard and Stanford Universities at numbers 1 and 2 respectively. Harvard University moves up five places from sixth last year to claim the top spot while Columbia University moves from 12th last year to joint 4th (with New York University).
The only UK universities in the top 10 are Cambridge at third and Oxford at seventh. Australia’s University of Melbourne dropped one place from last year to No 8.
According to THE, law is the best ranked subject in Italy, Ukraine, Poland, South Africa and Australia and Germany has increased its representation in the top 100 from five last year to seven this year, while Australian universities have decreased from nine last year to six this year.
Also in the top 100, the University of Oslo in Norway moves up more than 20 places from joint 64th last year to joint 43rd this year and the University of Cologne in Germany moves up to 57th place from band 151-175. Compared to last year, the UK (8), Spain (6) and Italy (6) lead the new entrants for this subject (compared with last year).
The US again dominates the top 10, filling seven of the spots and tops the table with Harvard University, followed in second and third place by the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, respectively. Imperial College London is the only other UK university at No 10.
Peking University in China moves up six places from 18th last year to joint 12th this year, while Osaka University in Japan, joint 100th last year, moves up 32 places to joint 68th.
The US takes the top four positions in the top 10, led by the California Institute of Technology, which rose three places, and is followed by Harvard, Stanford and MIT. The universities of Cambridge (fifth) and Oxford (eighth) are the only UK universities to feature in the top 10.
ETH Zurich, the only other country outside of the UK and US to have a university in the top 10, takes 9th place.
Sapienza University of Rome, Italy enters the top 100, coming 97th this year, up from band 101-125, while the US has four more universities in the top 100, taking total representation from 34 last year to 38 this year.
More universities in the US participated in physical sciences than any other country with 163. The UK's best scoring subject is physical sciences, considering countries with at least 10 universities continuously ranked. The UK is fifth in the world in this subject, according to THE.
Canada’s University of Toronto enters the top 10, moving up nine places to 10th this year, making it the only non-US or UK university in the top 10. The top 10 is headed by Stanford, followed by Princeton University.
The University of Chicago in the US, which dropped out of the top 10 last year, re-enters the top 10 this year in the No 9 spot. The only two UK universities are Cambridge (at third) and UCL (at sixth).
In the top 100, Ghent University in Belgium is at No 51, up from joint 69th last year, while Beijing Normal University in China moves from band 101-125 to finish 68th this year. The US has four more universities in the top 100 this year with 44.
Seven US universities and three UK universities dominate the top 10 which is led by the US’ MIT and Stanford at first and second, followed by the UK’s University of Oxford at third. The London School of Economics and Political Science is at No 8. No other countries have universities that feature in the top 10 for social sciences.
The highest participation rate for social sciences comes from the UK with 95 universities ranked. Spain’s Autonomous University of Barcelona enters the top 100, coming 85th, up from band 101-125.