MIT stays on top of QS World University Rankings in 2016/17

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

For the fifth year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is sitting on the top of the QS World University Rankings’ Top Universities. QS World University Rankings released their 2015/16 ranking on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2016, and the first time in the ranking’s history the top three is all American schools, with MIT, Stanford and Harvard University making a trifecta.

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 eighth place breaking up what has been for years an exclusive club. “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 (5), the University of Chicago (10)). And four British universities (Cambridge (4), 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 down one spot from last year. The 2017 ranking is the first year where a British school did not occupy one of the top three spots. Britain’s leading school, the University of Cambridge, moves down one to fourth 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 includes 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 916 schools 25 more than last year’s edition. The Unites States has the most universities in the ranking top 200 with a quarter, 48 schools, 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, because 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.

The top university outside the UK is Switzerland’s ETH Zürich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology moving up one to №8, which is considered “the top university in continental Europe” in many world and global rankings. The top Asian university is The National University of Singapore (NUS) ranking in at №12. Australia’s Australian National University is the top ranking university from the Australasia region falling three to 22.

Canada features three universities in the top 50; the same three universities are Canada’s top institutions in all international rankings. McGill University holds QS’s top spot at №30, moving down six spots, but reclaiming the top spot for Canada. The University of Toronto falls two to №36, while the University of British Columbia is the only one to rise, moving up 5 to 45th place. The QS ranking is the only international ranking where McGill is the top school in the country; University of Toronto usual takes that honor.

Ben Sowter, head of research at the QS Intelligence Unit, who also compiled the ranking, explained to Forbes about the movement, “This year’s rankings imply that levels of investment are determining who progresses and who regresses. Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding, whether from endowments or from the public purse, are rising.” Sowter continued saying, “On the other hand, Western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their U.S. and Asian counterparts. Innovation and investment remain inextricably linked to one another, and Stanford superseding Cambridge is perhaps the highest-profile example of this pattern.”

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 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. The World University Rankings list looks at over 900 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 2016/17 top 10:

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

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.

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