The Ins and Outs of QS World University Rankings. How It Works and How It Helps You.

Let’s take a dive into the mechanics of the world’s most popular university rankings to understand what they are, how they work, when and why they can prove useful to finding your international Bachelor’s or Master’s programme.

Every prospective student wants to choose a good university that will help them become a specialist in their subject area. But other things matter as well, such as how easy it is to find a job after graduation, how to choose between London and Hong Kong as their study destination, or how do universities support international students? 

QS World University Rankings is considered the most popular out of the three major ranking systems: QS, The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, and Shanghai Rankings. They’ve been publishing a top of best universities since 2004 when they began in a collaboration with THE. However, since 2009, they’ve been publishing separate ranking results based on different methodologies. ForIn 2023, the QS released published their most inclusive ranking until now, comprised of more than 1,400 universities from around the world. 

Graduates’ Employment is something only QS includes in their university score 

If you learn how to read it right, the QS World University Rankings will prove useful to you, as it does more than publish a World Universities Ranking: it compiles several other rankings to portray higher education institutions as clear as possible. QS are the only ones to consider employment rates when estimating university rankings. You can also filter the rankings by region, subject, and city.  

If you go to QS World University Rankings, you’ll notice that they don’t publish only the world rankings but have more sections which can help prospective students understand in detail how good a university is. This is what you can explore:

QS Graduate Employability Rankings

This section analyses universities based on their ability to prepare graduates for their future employment. They are looking at how good a university is at developing students’ soft skills, as well as setting up industry links with potential employers during the students’ university years.

If you’re worried about your chances of finding work once you graduate, you should definitely check this section before choosing a university.

QS Rankings by Region

Arab university

For this section, QS uses a different methodology for each section to best reflect the unique situation in that region.  There are five regions: Asia, the Arab region, Latin America, EECA (Emerging Europe and Central Asia), and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa)

The Rankings by Region can give a lot of insight into the situation of higher education in certain areas of the globe. Perhaps the universities in Emerging Europe cannot compete yet with the top universities of the world, but there are many students who will study there. This ranking ensures they are fairly analysed, in relation to other institutions of similar level and in report to their unique social, political, historical, and cultural situation. 

QS Rankings by Subject

Archaeology student

They provide rankings in 51 individual subject areas, analysing universities based on how good they are in a particular subject. Just to give you an example, if you’re thinking of studying Archaeology and you’re looking at Leiden University, it holds position =131 in World Ranking, with four other universities in the Netherlands scoring higher, but in Archaeology, Leiden it’s the 7th best institution in the world. 

Once you know what you wish to study, always check the QS Ranking by Subject as well. 

QS Best Student Cities

London as the best student city

When you try to decide where to study, I’m sure you’re not only looking at academic quality. Among the other factors you’re considering, location is bound to be one of them. This top shows what are the best cities for students by analysing a range of factors. 

The final score is made up of marking different indicators, such as affordability, desirability, employer activity, university rankings (how many ranked universities the city has and how high they are in the top), student mix (how many students are in the city and how many of them are from abroad), and student view (based on student survey).

So, what is there to learn? Well, in the latest Best City Rankings, which lists 164 cities, there is no US city in top 10, while London keeps its crown as the best student city, followed by Munich and Seoul.  The other cities in top 10 are Zurich, Melbourne, Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, and Edinburgh. They all sound so exciting to live in!

There are a few extra smaller categories, added as separate sections by QS because of the popularity of their subject:

  • QS Business Masters Rankings

  • QS Global MBA Rankings

  • QS USA University Rankings

Not all universities are included in the World Ranking

To be considered for the World Rankings, a university must offer courses at all levels (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D) and have a minimum of three graduating classes for each level. To be analysed, they must fulfil some extra criteria and to be listed on the website, their score must pass a set threshold. 

In other words, the simple fact that a higher education institution appears in the World Rankings, regardless of its position, shows that it has decent quality and it’s worth considering. 

What methodology is QS using to decide which universities are the best in the world?

QS World University Rankings uses 6 indicators to assess the world’s top universities:  

  1. Academic Reputation is the main indicator, weighing 40% of the overall mark. It assesses the quality of teaching and research undergone by the university through a global survey. QS sends the survey to thousands of academics from around the world every year. Each academic must nominate ten institutions from their own country they believe produce top research in their field of study. They are not allowed to nominate their own institution. Moreover, they must also nominate up to 30 international higher education institutions that produce, in their opinion, the best research in that same field of study.  

  1. Employer Reputation holds 10% of the overall mark and is unique to QS, bringing the issue of employability among the factors that influence how good a university is. Like academic reputation, the indicator is based on a survey sent to thousands of people, however, this time they are employers, not academics or students. The employers surveyed must pick 10 institutions from their country and up to 30 international ones they believe are best for producing graduates.

  1. Faculty / Student Ratio has a weighing of 20% of the final mark, and it looks at the ratio between the total number of faculty academic staff and the total number of students. Qs believes that the more academic staff there are available, the better the student’s experience will be because of a better quality of supervision, teaching, curriculum development, and tutor support.

  1. Citations per Faculty is an indicator that weighs 20% of the overall mark, and it looks at how much research the university produces and how intense that effort is. To measure this, QS counts how many times the papers published by the faculty’s academic staff are cited in other academic works.

  1. International student ratio contributes 5% to the final mark. It looks at the ratio of international students to the overall number of students. It stands to reason that a larger international student population leads to beneficial cultural exchanges and networking between students. Collaborating with others from different cultural backgrounds enriches students’ experiences and creates new possibilities for their future.

  1. International faculty ratio amounts to the remaining 5% of the mark. It measures the ratio of international academics to the overall number of academics in the faculty. Similar to the previous indicator, more international academics means more diversity of ideas and interesting collaborations.

Learn how to use the QS rankings to your advantage 

Is it enough to look at a list that tells you what the best universities are? Does it mean everyone should strive to apply for the number one university alone? And if they won’t have them, try the second and so on? Of course not!

The rankings are useful, but you need to learn how to read them, first of all. Check the indicators in detail and see which ones are most relevant for you. For example, you live in the U.K. and want to study in Japan. You don’t really care about their international student population because you really want to dive deep into Japanese culture while you’re there. You do, however, care greatly that the teaching on your chosen subject – Modern Languages – is taught at the highest quality. Then, the University of Tokyo is the best choice for you. While it has a bad score for the international indicators, it has 100 points in overall Academic Reputation and it’s in the 7th place worldwide for Modern Languages. 

Secondly, always check the other Rankings mentioned above as well, don’t look only at the general rankings. Subject, city, regional, and employability rankings are just as relevant. 

But remember, clearly identifying what you want is the most important thing. This way, you will know what you’re looking for.

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