QS World University Rankings
|Publisher||Quacquarelli Symonds Limited|
|First issue||2004 (in partnership with THE)
2010 (on its own)
QS World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). Previously known as THE-QS World University Rankings, the publisher had collaborated with Times Higher Education magazine (THE) to publish its international league tables from 2004 to 2009 before both started to announce their own versions. QS then chose to still use the pre-existing methodology while THE adopted a new one. The QS system now comprises the global overall and subject rankings, alongside three independent regional tables (Asia, Latin America, and BRICS). It is viewed as one of the most widely read university rankings along with Academic Ranking of World Universities and Times Higher Education World University Rankings, but criticism of it for giving undue weight to subjective indicators also exists.
A perceived need for an international ranking of universities for UK purposes was highlighted in December 2003 in Richard Lambert's review of university-industry collaboration in Britain for HM Treasury, the finance ministry of the United Kingdom. Amongst its recommendations were world university rankings, which Lambert said would help the UK to gauge the global standing of its universities.
The idea for the rankings was credited in Ben Wildavsky's book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World, to then-editor of Times Higher Education (THE), John O'Leary. THE chose to partner with educational and careers advice company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) to supply the data, appointing Martin Ince, formerly deputy editor and later a contractor to THE, to manage the project.
Between 2004 and 2009, QS produced the rankings in partnership with THE. In 2009, THE announced they would produce their own rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, in partnership with Thomson Reuters. THE cited an asserted weakness in the methodology of the original rankings, as well as a perceived favoritism in the existing methodology for science over the humanities, as two of the key reasons for the decision to split with QS.
QS retained intellectual property in the prior rankings and the methodology used to compile them and continues to produce rankings based on that methodology, which are now called the QS World University Rankings.
THE created a new methodology with Thomson Reuters, and published the first Times Higher Education World University Rankings in September 2010.
|Academic peer review||
||Based on an internal global academic survey|
||A measurement of teaching commitment|
|Citations per faculty||
||A measurement of research impact|
||Based on a survey on graduate employers|
|International student ratio||
||A measurement of the diversity of the student community|
|International staff ratio||
||A measurement of the diversity of the academic staff|
QS publishes the rankings results in some media around the world, including Chosun Ilbo in Korea. The first rankings produced by QS independently of THE, and using QS's consistent and original methodology, were released on September 8, 2010, with the second appearing on September 6, 2011.
QS tried to design its rankings to look at a broad range of university activity.
Academic peer review
This is the most controversial part of the methodology[weasel words]. Using a combination of purchased mailing lists and applications and suggestions, this survey asks active academicians across the world about the top universities in fields they know about. QS has published the job titles and geographical distribution of the participants.
The 2011 rankings made use of responses from 33,744 people from over 140 nations in its Academic Peer Review, including votes from the previous two years rolled forward provided there was no more recent information available from the same individual. Participants can nominate up to 30 universities but are not able to vote for their own. They tend to nominate a median of about 20, which means that this survey includes over 500,000 data points.
In 2004, when the rankings first appeared, academic peer review accounted for half of a university's possible score. In 2005, its share was cut to 40 per cent because of the introduction of the Recruiter Review.
Faculty student ratio
This indicator accounts for 20 per cent of a university's possible score in the rankings. It is a classic measure used in various ranking systems as a surrogate for teaching commitment, but QS has admitted that it is less than satisfactory.
Citations per faculty
Citations of published research are among the most widely used inputs to national and global university rankings. The QS World University Rankings used citations data from Thomson (now Thomson Reuters) from 2004 to 2007, and since then uses data from Scopus, part of Elsevier. The total number of citations for a five-year period is divided by the number of academicians in a university to yield the score for this measure, which accounts for 20 per cent of a university's possible score in the Rankings.
QS has explained that it uses this approach, rather than the citations per paper preferred for other systems, because it reduces the effect of biomedical science on the overall picture – bio-medicine has a ferocious "publish or perish" culture. Instead QS attempts to measure the density of research-active staff at each institution. But issues still remain about the use of citations in ranking systems, especially the fact that the arts and humanities generate comparatively few citations.
QS has conceded the presence of some data collection errors regarding citations per faculty in previous years' rankings.
One interesting issue is the difference between the Scopus and Thomson Reuters databases. For major world universities, the two systems capture more or less the same publications and citations. For less mainstream institutions, Scopus has more non-English language and smaller-circulation journals in its database. But as the papers there are less heavily cited, this can also mean fewer citations per paper for the universities that publish in them. This area has been criticized for undermining universities which do not use English as their primary language. Citations and publications in a language different from English are harder to come across. The English language is the most internationalized language and therefore the most popular when citing.
This part of the ranking is obtained by a similar method to the Academic Peer Review, except that it samples recruiters who hire graduates on a global or significant national scale. The numbers are smaller – 16,875 responses from over 130 countries in the 2011 Rankings – and are used to produce 10 per cent of any university's possible score. This survey was introduced in 2005 in the belief that employers track graduate quality, making this a barometer of teaching quality, a famously problematic thing to measure. University standing here is of special interest to potential students.
The final ten per cent of a university's possible score is derived from measures intended to capture their internationalism: five percent from their percentage of international students, and another five percent from their percentage of international staff. This is of interest partly because it shows whether a university is putting effort into being global, but also because it tells us whether it is taken seriously enough by students and academics around the world for them to want to be there.
Several universities in the UK and the Asia-Pacific region have commented on the rankings positively. Vice-Chancellor of New Zealand's Massey University, Professor Judith Kinnear, says that the Times Higher Education-QS ranking is a "wonderful external acknowledgement of several university attributes, including the quality of its research, research training, teaching and employability." She said the rankings are a true measure of a university's ability to fly high internationally: "The Times Higher Education ranking provides a rather more and more sophisticated, robust and well rounded measure of international and national ranking than either New Zealand's Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) measure or the Shanghai rankings." In September 2012 the British newspaper The Independent described the QS World University Rankings as being "widely recognised throughout higher education as the most trusted international tables".
Martin Ince, chair of the Advisory Board for the Rankings, points out that their volatility has been reduced since 2007 by the introduction of the Z-score calculation method and that over time, the quality of QS's data gathering has improved to reduce anomalies. In addition, the academic and employer review are now so big that even modestly ranked universities receive a statistically valid number of votes. QS has published extensive data  on who the respondents are, where they are, and the subjects and industries to which the academicians and employers respectively belong.
Many are concerned with the use or misuse of survey data.
Since the split from Times Higher Education, further concerns about the methodology QS uses for its rankings have been brought up by several experts. Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at University of Melbourne and a member of the THE editorial board, in the article "Improving Latin American universities' global ranking" for University World News on 10 June 2012, said: "I will not discuss the QS ranking because the methodology is not sufficiently robust to provide data valid as social science." 
In an article for the New Statesman entitled "The QS World University Rankings are a load of old baloney", David Blanchflower, a leading labour economist, said: "This ranking is complete rubbish and nobody should place any credence in it. The results are based on an entirely flawed methodology that underweights the quality of research and overweights fluff... The QS is a flawed index and should be ignored." 
In an article titled The Globalisation of College and University Rankings and appearing in the January/February 2012 issue of Change magazine, Philip Altbach, professor of higher education at Boston College and also a member of the THE editorial board, said: "The QS World University Rankings are the most problematical. From the beginning, the QS has relied on reputational indicators for half of its analysis … it probably accounts for the significant variability in the QS rankings over the years. In addition, QS queries employers, introducing even more variability and unreliability into the mix. Whether the QS rankings should be taken seriously by the higher education community is questionable."
The QS World University Rankings have been criticised by many for placing too much emphasis on peer review, which receives 40 percent of the overall score. Some people have expressed concern about the manner in which the peer review has been carried out. In a report, Peter Wills from the University of Auckland, New Zealand wrote of the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings:
But we note also that this survey establishes its rankings by appealing to university staff, even offering financial enticements to participate (see Appendix II). Staff are likely to feel it is in their greatest interest to rank their own institution more highly than others. This means the results of the survey and any apparent change in ranking are highly questionable, and that a high ranking has no real intrinsic value in any case. We are vehemently opposed to the evaluation of the University according to the outcome of such PR competitions.
QS points out that no survey participant, academic or employer, has been offered a financial incentive to respondents. And academics cannot vote for their own institution.
Despite THES-QS introducing several changes in methodology in 2007 which were aimed at addressing these criticisms, the ranking has continued to attract criticisms. In an article in the peer-reviewed BMC Medicine authored by several scientists from the US and Greece, it was pointed out:
If properly performed, most scientists would consider peer review to have very good construct validity; many may even consider it the gold standard for appraising excellence. However, even peers need some standardized input data to peer review. The Times simply asks each expert to list the 30 universities they regard as top institutions of their area without offering input data on any performance indicators. Research products may occasionally be more visible to outsiders, but it is unlikely that any expert possesses a global view of the inner workings of teaching at institutions worldwide. Moreover, the expert selection process of The Times is entirely unclear. The survey response rate among the selected experts was only <1% in 2006 (1,600 of 190,000 contacted). In the absence of any guarantee for protection from selection biases, measurement validity can be very problematic.
Alex Usher, vice president of Higher Education Strategy Associates in Canada, commented:
Most people in the rankings business think that the main problem with The Times is the opaque way it constructs its sample for its reputational rankings - a not-unimportant question given that reputation makes up 50% of the sample. Moreover, this year's switch from using raw reputation scores to using normalized Z-scores has really shaken things up at the top-end of the rankings by reducing the advantage held by really top universities - University of British Columbia (UBC) for instance, is now functionally equivalent to Harvard in the Peer Review score, which, no disrespect to UBC, is ludicrous. I'll be honest and say that at the moment the THES Rankings are an inferior product to the Shanghai Jiao Tong's Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Academicians have also been critical of the use of the citation database, arguing that it undervalues institutions which excel in the social sciences. Ian Diamond, former chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council and now vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and a member of the THE editorial board, wrote to Times Higher Education in 2007, saying:
The use of a citation database must have an impact because such databases do not have as wide a cover of the social sciences (or arts and humanities) as the natural sciences. Hence the low position of the London School of Economics, caused primarily by its citations score, is a result not of the output of an outstanding institution but the database and the fact that the LSE does not have the counterweight of a large natural science base.
The most recent criticism of the old system came from Fred L. Bookstein, Horst Seidler, Martin Fieder and Georg Winckler in the journal Scientomentrics for the unreliability of QS's methods:
Several individual indicators from the Times Higher Education Survey (THES) data base the overall score, the reported staff-to-student ratio, and the peer ratings—demonstrate unacceptably high fluctuation from year to year. The inappropriateness of the summary tabulations for assessing the majority of the "top 200" universities would be apparent purely for reason of this obvious statistical instability regardless of other grounds of criticism. There are far too many anomalies in the change scores of the various indices for them to be of use in the course of university management.
The QS subject rankings have been dismissed as unreliable by some critics, including most notably Brian Leiter, who points out that programmes which are known to be high quality, and which rank highly in the Blackwell rankings (e.g., the University of Pittsburgh) fare poorly in the QS ranking for reasons that are not at all clear.
- For the rankings before 2010, see THE-QS World University Rankings.
QS also releases a list of QS Top 50 under 50 annually to rank universities which have established for not more than 50 years. These institutions are judged based on their positions on the overall table of the previous year.
Faculties and subjects
QS also ranks universities by academic discipline organized into 5 faculties, namely Arts & Humanities, Engineering & Technology, Life Sciences& Medicine, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences & Management. These annual rankings are drawn up on the basis of academic opinion, recruiter opinion and citations.
|Art & Humanities||Engineering & Technology||Life Sciences & Medicine||Natural Sciences [note 2]||Social Sciences|
|Arts & Design||Architecture||Agriculture & Forestry||Physics & Astronomy||Accounting & Finance|
|English language & literature||Chemical Engineering||Biological Sciences||Mathematics||Business & Management|
|History||Civil & Structural Engineering||Dentistry||Environmental Sciences||Communication & Media Studies|
|Linguistics||Computer Science||Medicine||Earth & Marine Sciences||Development Studies|
|Modern languages||Electrical & Electronic engineering||Pharmacy & Pharmacology||Chemistry||Economics & Econometrics|
|Philosophy||Mechanical, Aeronautical & Manufacturing||Psychology||Materials Sciences||Education|
|Nursing||Politics & International Studies|
In 2009, QS launched the QS Asian University Rankings or QS University Rankings: Asia in partnership with The Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Korea to rank universities in Asia independently.
These rankings use some of the same criteria as the world rankings, but there are changed weightings and new criteria. One addition is the criterion of incoming and outgoing exchange students. Accordingly, the QS World University Rankings and the QS Asian University Rankings released in the same academic year are different from each other.
|National University of Singapore||10||3||3||2||2||1||1||1|
|The University of Hong Kong||1||1||2||3||2||3||2||2|
|Nanyang Technological University||14||18||17||17||10||7||4||3|
|The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology||4||2||1||1||1||5||5||4|
|Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology||7||13||11||7||6||2||3||6|
|The City University of Hong Kong||18||15||15||12||12||11||9||7|
|The Chinese University of Hong Kong||2||4||5||5||7||6||6||8|
|Seoul National University||8||6||6||4||4||4||8||10|
The QS Latin American University Rankings or QS University Rankings: Latin America were launched in 2011. They use academic opinion (30%), employer opinion (20%), publications per faculty member, citations per paper, academic staff with a PhD, faculty/student ratio and web visibility (10 per cent each) as measures.
This set of rankings adopts 8 indicators to select the top 100 higher learning institutions in BRICS countries. Institutions in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not ranked here, leaving those in mainland China alone.
|University of Science and Technology of China||6||4||6||4|
|Shanghai Jiao Tong University||6||8||6||5|
|Indian Institute of Science Bangalore||-||-||5||6|
|Lomonosov Moscow State University||3||3||4||7|
|Universidade de São Paulo||8||7||9||10|
QS also offers universities a way of seeing their own strengths and weaknesses in depth. Called QS Stars, this service is separate from the QS World University Rankings. It involves a detailed look at a range of functions which mark out a modern university. Universities can get from one star to five, or Five Star Plus for the truly exceptional.
QS Stars ratings are derived from scores on eight criteria. They are:
- Research Quality
- Teaching Quality
- Graduate Employability
- University Infrastructure
- Innovation and knowledge transfer
- Third mission activity, measuring areas of social and civic engagement
- Special criteria for specific subjects
Stars is an evaluation system, not a ranking. About 100 institutions had opted for the Stars evaluation as of early 2013. In 2012, fees to participate in this program were $9850 for the initial audit and an annual license fee of $6850.
- "Asian University Rankings - QS Asian University Rankings vs. QS World University Rankings™".
The methodology differs somewhat from that used for the QS World University Rankings...
- "University rankings: which world university rankings should we trust?". The Telegraph. 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
It is a remarkably stable list, relying on long-term factors such as the number of Nobel Prize-winners a university has produced, and number of articles published in Nature and Science journals. But with this narrow focus comes drawbacks. China's priority was for its universities to "catch up" on hard scientific research. So if you're looking for raw research power, it's the list for you. If you're a humanities student, or more interested in teaching quality? Not so much.
- Ariel Zirulnick. "New world university ranking puts Harvard back on top". The Christian Science Monitor.
Those two, as well as Shanghai Jiao Tong University, produce the most influential international university rankings out there
- Indira Samarasekera & Carl Amrhein. "Top schools don't always get top marks". The Edmonton Journal. Archived from the original on October 3, 2010.
There are currently three major international rankings that receive widespread commentary: The Academic World Ranking of Universities, the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education Rankings.
- Philip G. Altbach (11 November 2010). "The State of the Rankings". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
The major international rankings have appeared in recent months — the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings, and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE).
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- Response to Review of Strategic Plan by Peter Wills[permanent dead link]
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- QS Intelligence Unit Blog — blog on rankings and higher education from the team that compiles the QS World University Rankings
- Interactive maps comparing the QS World University Rankings with the Academic Ranking of World Universities and Times Higher Education rankings