MIT remains the world’s best UK slides in 2018 QS World University Rankings

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

For the sixth consecutive time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is sitting on the top of the QS World University Rankings’ Top Universities,

The 2018 university ranking season is getting an early start as Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) pushed up the release of their annual world university rankings. For the sixth year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is sitting on the top of the QS World University Rankings’ annual Top Universities. QS World University Rankings released their 2018 edition on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, and for the first time in the ranking’s history the top four are all American schools, with MIT, Stanford, Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology sweeping the top spots.

Meanwhile, Brexit is affecting British universities with 51 institutions losing ground in the rankings by at least one spot. There are 76 British universities in this year’s ranking. As QS indicates, “This includes 11 of the 16 ranked Russell Group universities.” The top ranking British university comes in only in fifth place with Cambridge University, which fell by one spot from last year. Cambridge is followed by Oxford, which holds on to the sixth place, UCL, the University College of London also holds on to the seventh place. The last British school to rank in the top ten is the Imperial College of London, which falls one to land in ninth place.

The top 10 shows an almost even balance between American and British universities with one continental European institution Switzerland’s ETH Zurich — Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at tenth place falling two spots, but still breaking up what had been for years an exclusive club dominated by the Americans and British. “Academic reputation” is the most important determining factor for the lists, and it is reflected by the universities represented in the ranking.

This year there are five American (MIT (1), Stanford (2), Harvard (3), Caltech (4), the University of Chicago (9)). And four British universities (Cambridge (5), Oxford (6), University College of London (7), Imperial College of London (9)) in the top 10. The top Ivy League school on the list is Harvard at №3 remaining in the same place for two years in a row. For the second year, a British school does not occupy one of the top three spots and now four spots. Britain’s leading school, the University of Cambridge, moves down, one to fifth place.

Two of the four British universities in the top 10 moved down a spot from last year, showing a troubling trend for British universities throughout the ranking. Meanwhile, there are 11 American universities in the top 20, while there are five British universities in the top 20. In this year’s edition, there are four universities outside of the US and the UK in the top 20, two from Switzerland, and two from Singapore.

The QS World University Rankings consistently include more non-US and on-UK universities in the top 20 than any of the other international rankings. There are 81 countries represented in the ranking of 959 schools 25 more than last year’s edition. The United States has the most universities in the ranking top 200 with a quarter, 48 schools, Great Britain follows in second place with 30 of the top 200 universities.

Despite Britain’s strong showing, British schools are ranking lower than last year, mostly of concerns regarding Brexit, including attracting students and funding. According to Forbes, “38 of its 48 representatives in the top 400 have lost ground.” Last year there were three schools from London in the top 20, now there are only two. Additionally, British universities have been suffering from funding cuts.

The top university outside the UK is Switzerland’s ETH Zürich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology moves down two from number 8 to 10. ETH Zurich is considered “the top university in continental Europe” in many worlds and global rankings. The top Asian University is now NanyangTechnological University (NTU) in Singapore at number 11 moving up two from last year and bumping The National University of Singapore (NUS) from the top Asian university. NUS moved down, three to number 15. Australia’s Australian National University is the top ranking university from the Australasia region moving up two to reach the top 20 at number 20.

Universities in emerging economies countries continue to rise in the rankings. China has six universities in the top 100, up from four. India has three schools featured in the top 200. The Universidad de Buenos Aires is Latin America’s top school coming at number 75. Russia also tops the top 100 for the first time with Lomonosov Moscow State University at number 95.

Canada features three universities in the top 50; the same three universities are Canada’s top institutions in all international rankings. McGill University loses its top spot in Canada falling two to number 32. The University of Toronto is now Canada top university in the QS ranking after it moved up five from number 36 to 31. Although McGill ranks first in Canadian rankings in international ones the University of Toronto usual takes that honor. Canada’s third university in the top 100, the University of British Columbia tumbled in the ranking down seven from number 45 to 52.

Ben Sowter, head of research at the QS Intelligence Unit, who also compiled the ranking, explained why MIT dominates the ranking. Sowter remarked in the official press release, “MIT is the nucleus of an unrivaled innovation ecosystem. Companies created by its alumni enjoyed combined revenues of $2 trillion, making them the equivalent of the world’s 11th largest economy. However, their continued dominance at the top should not obscure a changing landscape elsewhere, with other US and UK institutions making way for the best of Russia, China, and India — among others.”

QS World University Rankings was originally a collaboration between the education and career company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) with the Times Higher Education (THE) to create a world university ranking in 2003. For five years the listing was published on THE, with QS supplying the data. In 2010, Times Higher Education decided to break off the partnership and pair up with Thomson Reuters to produce their ranking list. The decision was mostly because of the heavy reliance of using peer reviews to determine the rankings. The QS World University Rankings first appeared in its present format in 2010.

The ranking methodology looks at six indicators in giving marks to each university. The six indicators include, “academic reputation, student-to-faculty ratio, citations per faculty, employer reputation, international faculty ratio, and international student ratio.” Each university is accessed on four factors: “research, teaching, employability, and internationalization.”
The QS World University Ranking changed their methodology last year to focus more heavily on research. There is now more reliance on “citations per faculty, making that indicator weight 20 percent of the final score.” QS is using their data from Scopus, “the world’s largest database of research abstracts and citations.” The ranking’s reliance on citation numbers pushes the balance for universities with an active life and natural science programs because academics in those fields have “higher citation rates than in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

The list is highly regarded, but controversial, because they rely on academic peer reviews to rank the universities, others factors include faculty-student ratio, citations by faculty, recruiter review, and internationalism. A recent article from “The Online Citizen” called the “QS ranking downright shady and unethical.” The article questioned the results, the methodology and those chosen to respond to the surveys used to compile the data. The author claims the ranking has an anti-American bias in favor of European and Asian universities. The author found particular issue with Asian universities outranking Ivy League universities” Princeton, Cornell, Yale, and Columbia” and prestigious public and private schools like Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley. The author questioned the disproportionate percentage of surveys coming from small countries while only 10 percent of respondents came from the US.

The World University Rankings list looks at over 950 schools. The ranking includes some sub-lists looking at more specific issues or geographic areas including; By Faculty, Asia, Latin America, BRICS countries; Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Best Student Cities, By Subject, and also the top 50 universities under 50 years old.

QS World University Rankings Top Universities 2017/18 top 10:

1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States (1)
2 Stanford University, United States (2)
3 Harvard University, United States (3)
4 California Institute of Technology (Caltech), United States (5)
5 University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (4)
6 University of Oxford, United Kingdom (5)
7 UCL (University College London), United Kingdom (7)
8 Imperial College London, United Kingdom (9)
9 University of Chicago, United States (10)
10 ETH Zurich — Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland (8)

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store