The most surprising changes to Academic Rankings of world universities this year

The most surprising changes to Academic Rankings of world universities this year


As more and more students choose to attend universities abroad, it is becoming increasingly important that they have access to standardized, unbiased information about their options.

Which university has the best reputation? Which has contributed most to various fields of study? Which is most familiar with international students? These questions and many others are considered by organizations that have been ranking the world’s universities for years.

In this article, we will examine three of the most well-known rankings, compare their results, and discuss significant changes to them from years past.

Key rankings

The first ranking comes from the UK based Times Higher Education. It is the most student-centered of the three. To get its final score, they considered the number of full-time students, the student-to-staff ratio, the number of international students, and perhaps to some the most important factor of all, the male to female student ratio.

The second-ranking is compiled by U.S. News & World Report, based out of the country best known for its subtlety with names, The United States of America. This list focuses primarily on global reputations in research, calculated through surveys and the number of citations of university publications.

The final ranking is the “Academic Ranking of World Universities” by Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. It is something like a combination of the previous two lists, in that it considers both research and quality of education as determined by the publications and awards of alumni and professors.

Because they are made independently and using different metrics, any similarities between these three lists should be considered valuable insights for prospective students.

One of these insights is that the top ten is almost never a surprise, and you would do well to try to get into one of these schools. Year after year, we see the global rankings dominated by the same American universities, and two in the UK.

Sure, the orders switch up every now and then, but the top ten colleges are like some exclusive golf club. There are winners and losers during the game, but by the time the last ball has sunk, every member is still very confident about where they stand in society.

As the example that best captures this phenomenon, the top ten in Shanghai Rank’s latest list is as follows:

  1. Harvard (USA)
  2. Stanford (USA)
  3. Cambridge (UK)
  4. MIT (America)
  5. UC Berkley (USA)
  6. Princeton (USA)
  7. Oxford (UK)
  8. Columbia (USA)
  9. Caltech (USA)
  10. University of Chicago (USA)

The similarities

This is generally the same, plus or minus a few spots, in the two other lists. It is worth mentioning, however, that Times Higher Education includes another UK university, Imperial College London, as well as surprising us with a tie for number ten between the University of Pennsylvania in the US, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Another similarity is that these are the largest lists yet for each organization, so you know they are not likely to leave anyone out who deserves to be there.

The U.S. News and World Report ranking grew to 1,250 schools from last year’s 1,000. The Times Higher list was not far behind, increasing from 980 in 2017 to 1,000 in 2018. Though the Shanghai report limits its ranking to the top 500 every year, they took over 1,300 universities into account to reach their latest number, versus 1,200 last time. They also separately published those institutions that took 500th through 800th place.

The differences

Differences between this year’s rankings and those in the past should also be considered when one is looking for their most ideal school.

On all lists this year, for instance, the University of Tokyo dropped appreciably, especially in the U.S. News ranking where it went from number 44 in 2017, to 57 this year. It was number 30 in 2016, so apparently, this has been happening for a while. Sorry, Japan.

Asia as a whole, however, continues to develop its education sector. According to the same U.S. News ranking analysis, China alone has 136 ranked schools, an astonishing rise from the 87 it had just last year.

To sum up

The general trends for global supremacy in education have remained steady and are displayed in detail in these rankings.

So if you’re looking to study abroad, searching for a school and your grades and finances are good enough that you can choose based on prestige, you should start your search with one of these lists. For the rest of us, it’s just fun to see how our Alma Maters compare with universities in other countries.

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Sergio Hans Martinez is a photographer and English teacher currently living in Vietnam. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Arizona State University in 2015. Since then, he’s been doing everything he can to see the world and make his hobbies his job.

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