Times Higher Education (THE) publishes a top of the best universities in the world every year. It evaluates world universities based on 5 key metrics which we will explain to you in this article. You will understand what to look for if you are searching for an international study programme, and what scores are relevant for you as a student, as a future researcher, or how to get a head-start in certain industries.
Have a look at the brand new list they’ve just published, then dive into this guide to better understand THE World University Rankings.
What is THE University Ranking?
THE World Rankings is one of the three main ranking systems available today which provide a detailed yearly analysis of how well the top universities in the world performed. The other two are QS World University Rankings and the Shanghai Academic Rankings of World Universities (ARWU).
While QS base their results primarily on reputation surveys and ARWU focuses mostly on the quality of academic research and citations, Times Higher Education wants to bring a balanced approach. They use 13 indicators of performance in order to judge research-intensive universities from all points of view not just based on the quality of work they produce. This means THE offers an all-encompassing understanding of a university, and that serves students.
>> If you’re curious to learn more about the strengths and differences of each ranking system, read this: How to Interpret University Rankings and What Are They Good For?
How did THE start ranking universities?
Times Higher Education is a magazine that has been publishing news about higher education since 1971. In 2004, they started a collaboration with Quacquarelli Symonds and began publishing THE – QS World University Rankings for the first time. However, they separated five years later, and today we have two different, independent ranking systems: Times Higher Education World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings. Checking both of them means we get to be double sure about how good universities are.
>> Read our article about the QS ranking system here: The Ins and Outs of QS World University Rankings. How It Works and How It Helps You.
THE ranks world universities by these 5 criteria
THE divides their performance indicators into five groups in order to better reflect the qualities of universities. This is what they assess:
1. Teaching: How efficient are university classes and staff?
This score should count a lot for a future student. Teaching values 30% of the overall score of a university. This 30% is made up of five smaller categories.
Reputation survey 15%: This counts the most and, as the name says, it’s a survey sent to academics around the world in which they have to choose a maximum of 15 universities they consider the best in the world in their field of study.
Staff-to-student ratio 4.5%: This ratio is important because the more staff a university has the better the student experience is.
Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio 2.25%: Having a higher number of doctorate students implies the university offers high-quality education which makes it attractive to postgraduates.
Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio 6%
Institutional income 2.25%: This income allows the university to invest more in meeting student needs and providing state-of-the-art facilities.
2. Research: Is research performed here considered relevant?
If your plan is to build a career in research, meaning that you probably want to do a PhD at this university, well, this is a metric to consider. Research, which amounts to another 30% of the overall score, is assessed in great part (18%) through the academic reputation survey as well, meaning that this indicator reflects how well-regarded the research published by a university is among the other academics.
In addition, this category takes research income into consideration as well (6%) because THE believe the budget a university has for its research will influence its quality and research productivity (6%) or how much work academics at that university actually publish in peer-reviewed journals.
3. Citations: How often are authors from here cited in books or articles?
Citations are the third indicator and equally important as the previous one for future researchers. Citations, just like Teaching and Research, counts for another 30% of the final score and it measures how much influence the research produced by a university has on the outside world. They measure it by counting the number of times the university’s published works are cited by other scholars.
4. International outlook: Is the university relevant to the international community?
If you are an international student looking for a university abroad, you should check the International outlook metric in particular. Although this metric weighs a bit less than the other three indicators, 7.5% of the final score this indicator is very important because a good, high-performing university naturally attracts international students and staff. That’s why a high score in the three categories of this indicator, the proportion of international students, the proportion of international staff, and international collaboration, is relevant for all students but especially those coming from abroad who will benefit from studying at a university adapted to foreign students.
5. Industry income: Do businesses give credit to the university?
The final indicator, although it represents only 2.5% of the score, is perhaps the most relevant in today’s modern and dynamic world. It shows the impact of the university and the research it produces beyond academic knowledge.
Industry income measure how much funding an institution received from companies in different industries in exchange for their research. In other words, how relevant is that research to the world outside academia, and how good is the university at attracting this kind of attention from companies.
For all its indicators, Times Higher Education takes differentiating factors into consideration and applies them to their results. Such factors are the profile of a university (science vs humanities focus for examples), location, how old or new it is, and so on.
>> If you want to read more about this, go to THE Methodology and read their detailed breakdown of all the performance indicators.
What else do they offer?
Apart from the annual World University Rankings, THE also has other lists of ranked universities which can shed some light if you’re trying to decide what’s the best university for you.. You should pick from these lists the ones that deal with the aspects you care about most. Do you want to go to a sustainable university? Do you care about how reputable the university is? Do want the best in your subject area? These are a few questions these other rankings can answer.
Impact rankings: tell you how sustainable the university is
These rankings are one of a kind and aim at judging universities based on their commitment to sustainability as well as their results in this area. They have their own Methodology and the top universities in this list are quite different from the ones in the World Academic Rankings. To analyse performance, the Impact rankings are built around the Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations.
Why does it matter to you? Because you’ll be part of an institution with an active role in building a greener, better world. Definitely check this out if you want to study in a sustainability-related subject area.
They’ve been published for four consecutive years already and the top 5 universities in the latest education are:
Western Sydney University, Australia
Western University, Canada
King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia
Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia
Teaching Rankings: focus on student experience over academic achievement
This again is a unique category that THE created in order to assess universities from the point of view of students by trying to answer some of their most common questions such as what are their chances of graduating, what’s the atmosphere on campus, how easy will it be to get a job after they graduate. In other words, these rankings are about the quality of teaching and the everyday experience at the university.
There are two subcategories here:
World University Rankings by Subject: same global rankings, specifically tailored for each study area
Similar to the Subject Rankings published by QS, THE Subject Rankings follow the same 13 performance indicators as the World Rankings, however, they change the percentage of each one so as to better represent the different subjects.
Do they even matter? Definitely. You will see that a university can score very high in a certain subject but much lower overall. Or the other way around. So, ask yourself what matters most to you: their academic strength in your subject or their general performance.
THE Subject Rankings are divided into 11 different subjects:
- Arts & humanities
- Business & economics
- Social sciences
- Computer science
- Clinical & health
- Life sciences
- Physical sciences
Regional Rankings: the rankings you need if you want to study in a particular part of the world
Because some regions have their own particularities which greatly influence higher education, THE has a few separate rankings, each focused on a single region and using its own adapted methodology. These are:
- Latin America University Rankings
- Asia University Rankings
- Arab University Rankings
- Emerging Economies University Rankings
Other Global Rankings if you want to be extra thorough
This list is put together following a worldwide survey sent to experienced academics in which they must name the 15 universities they consider best in the world. The top 10 is dominated by US and UK universities, with a single university from China in 10th place.
So, it stands to reason that if making an impression with your diploma is what you care about most, you should go for a degree in the US or UK.
This list uses the same methodology as the World Rankings, but only assesses universities that are 50 years old or younger.
The top 5 young universities in the world are:
- Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, France
- Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
- The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
- Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong