The ranking of universities internationally has become more commonplace in recent years. This seems to be predominantly connected to competition and accountability. Students are increasingly moving across national borders and want to compare faculties and departments in different countries, universities want to attract the best teachers and researchers, and there is an increasing feeling that the public is entitled to know how institutes that benefit from public funds are performing (1).

The two most frequently cited university rankings are: the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) in China; and the World University Rankings, from the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), a London-based weekly newspaper, in cooperation with its research and data analysis arm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

ARWU, often referred to simply as the ‘Shanghai Rankings’, was originally developed to compare Chinese universities with others worldwide, with particular reference to academic and research performance. The rankings, which cover 500 universities, including Tsinghua University in China, have been posted annually on the university’s website since 2003. THES has published its rankings annually since 2004. The assessment indicators and their weightings used in both rankings are outlined in the sidebar.

Academic debate

Both rankings have been the subject of considerable debate since their inception, garnering both positive and negative reactions from the academic community. “For the most part the [Shanghai Rankings] are methodologically sound and a valid basis for synchronic global comparisons,” said Professor Simon Marginson, Chair in Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, Australia in a paper delivered at a conference of the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education in Singapore in March 2007. Alex Usher, Vice President of the Educational Policy Institute, a US non-profit organization, commented on the institute’s website last November that he believes the Shanghai Rankings to be superior to the THES Rankings at the moment.

Science bias

However, others have criticized the Shanghai Rankings for being biased towards science-focused institutions because of the publication outlets considered and the extraordinary amount of citations in these fields. This is a bias that SJTU is aware of, as evidenced in a paper published by the Rankings’ founders in 2004: “Many well-known institutions specialized in humanities and social sciences are ranked relatively low partly because of the imbalances in the production of articles among various subject fields. The Ranking Group tried hard but was unsuccessful in finding additional indicators that are special for humanities and social sciences” (2).

Despite their flaws, however, and a concern that rankings promote a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to assessment, it is generally agreed among the academic community that these two rankings are the most comprehensive efforts available at present to rank universities internationally.

References:

(1) Holmes, R. (2006), “The THES Rankings: Are they really world class?”, Asian Journal of University Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 2.
(2) Liu, N.C., Cheng, Y. (2005) “Academic Ranking of World Universities – Methodologies and Problems”, Higher Education In Europe, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 10.

Shanghai Rankings (weighted scores)

Total number of staff (contributes 20% of the overall Ranking score) and alumni of institutions (10%) having won Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals

Number of highly cited researchers in 21 different disciplines (20%)

Number of articles published in Nature and Science (20%)

Total number of articles indexed by Science Citation Index and Social Science Citation Index (20%)

Research performance (total scores of the above) per head of staff (10%)

For definitions of indicators and further details, click here.

World University Rankings (THES)

Research quality (peer review 40%, citations per faculty 20%)

Graduate employability (recruiter review 10%)

International outlook (international faculty 5%, international students 5%)

Teaching quality (student faculty 20%)

For further details, click here.

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