20 October 2011

UK Top Universities – The World’s View

Previous posts have attempted to identify what politicians like to call the UK’s ‘top universities’ or ‘most competitive universities’. Having recently come up with a Top 30 for 2012 by combining the four UK league tables, it seemed a useful check to see where our elite institutions stood in the various world-wide university rankings. Of these, the three most credible seem to be the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011-2012 (400 institutions), the QS World University Rankings 2011/2012 (700 institutions) and the Academic Ranking of World Universities – 2011 (500 institutions, and is sometimes known as the Shanghai Ranking).

The first Table below takes the UK's 2012 Top 30 and shows where they stand internationally (TH, QS and AR as above):
Be warned, the economist David Blanchflower has a low opinion of the QS rankings and has pointed out:
Note that since 2000, the faculty of the University of Cambridge has been awarded one Nobel Prize, in 2010, which was its first since 1984, while UCL and Oxford have both had none. Indeed, the University of Oxford's faculty hasn't received one since 1973. By contrast, MIT and Columbia have both had five; UC Berkeley has had four while Stanford, Rockefeller, Johns Hopkins, Chicago and Princeton have each had two and Harvard one.
He favours the Shanghai Ranking and thinks the QS one should be ignored. Nonetheless, the international rankings can be combined (see note below) and a differently-ordered UK Top set results (Russell Group and Sutton Trust shown as before):

Interestingly, certain universities which have become increasingly highly regarded domestically in recent years, for example Bath and Exeter, have a fairly low international standing by comparison with say, Bristol (all three in SW England, as it happens). Manchester, on the other hand, which had dropped out of my Top 30 since 2011 (and more significantly was ranked 29, 32, 37= and 41 in the four UK 2012 league tables) reappears well up. As well as Manchester, Aberdeen and Queen’s Belfast appear in all three international tables, and so have been added to the original Top 30. Perhaps something to think about, if you intend to make a career in a multinational or international academia.


As usual rankings are added to give totals, and the lower that total the higher the combined rank. Banded scores have been mid-pointed, so 301-400 is taken as 350.5. SOAS and Aston do not appear in the AR 500 so have been nominated 501=, and again SOAS has had to be nominated 401 in the TH table. Perhaps they should be excluded altogether.

None of this should be taken too seriously. In neither the UK nor the international rankings, have I gone into the different criteria being used. Firstly, the rankings don’t vary that much, at least in the national tables. Secondly, as I hoped I made clear at the outset, it’s been an attempt to combine perceptions as to what might be a “top” university, the reality almost certainly being beyond measurement from the point of an individual student on a particular course of study.

1 comment:

  1. A little tangentially, I'm not convinced the award of Nobel prizes should carry so much weight. There seems to be an inflated importance accorded to the opinions of the self-perpetuating committees that choose the recipients. Admittedly, I can't judge the merits of the scientific awards, but many of the others look questionable. Peace prizes, for example, have gone to Henry Kissenger, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama - all upholders of what Eisenhower referred to as the US's military-industrial complex and related notions of America's global interests.

    David Martin