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Inaugural US News global rankings show some surprises

The world’s newest global academic ranking is dominated once again by US and UK universities, but US News and World Report‘s inaugural Global Best Universities Rankings do hold some surprises, with some traditionally high-ranking universities placing lower down the table and others faring better than in other rankings.

Harvard University topped the Global Universities Rankings. Photo: James MH/Flickr

Harvard was crowned the world's best university and scooped first place in 10 of the 20 subject rankings

US News also worked to differentiate itself with a numerical listing of universities based on 20 subject areas, as well as publishing the rankings for each of the 10 indicators used in its methodology, such as publications, total citations and global reputation.

“Readers can therefore understand where a school is stronger or weaker compared with other schools in the rankings,” a spokesperson told The PIE News.

As well as being crowned the world’s best university, Harvard scooped first place in 10 of the 20 subject rankings, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which led in four subjects and the University of California Berkeley, which led in two.

The Netherlands’ Wageningen University and Research Centre was the only non-US university to lead a subject ranking, in Agricultural Sciences.

The UK’s University of Oxford and University of Cambridge came in at fifth and sixth respectively – the only non-US universities in the top 10 – with Imperial College London in 12th position.

The University of Toronto is the highest-place university outside of the USA and UK in 14th place – six spots above where it stood in 2014’s THE and QS World University Rankings.

Its President, Meric Gertler, noted the rankings’ emphasis on global reputation and research volume, saying that the university’s research has “a tangible impact around the world”.

“We are consistently receiving recognition for being the country’s leading research powerhouse,” he added.

Conversely Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, which was the highest-ranked institution outside of the USA and UK in this year’s QS, THE and Shanghai rankings, coming in at 12th, 13th and 19th respectively, was down in 26th place.

The University of Tokyo is Asia’s highest ranking institution in 24th place, continuing its success in other rankings.

However, the National University of Singapore (NUS) came in at just 55th place – 23 places lower than its position in the QS table, where it was Asia’s top university – behind Peking University (39) and the University of Hong Kong (42).

A spokesperson for NUS attributed the shift to the differing criteria used by US News, but added that its placement in the top 60 reflects the university’s strength in research.

“NUS has been consistently placed among the leading universities in the world,” they told The PIE News, adding: “While rankings generally provide useful information, we do not plan our strategies or goals according to published rankings.”

Thomson Reuters has both bibliometric and reputation data, which we thought were important to include in the Global Best Universities rankings methodology”

US News‘ methodology focussed on international reputation, based on data measuring research performance such as number of citations from Thomson Reuters InCites, as well as school-level data on faculty and PhD graduates.

When asked whether this could be a weakness in terms of providing data for prospective international students to decide where to study, the spokesperson responded: “There is just not student level data that can be used or collected globally like admissions, graduation and retention rates, class size, employment rates, so it can’t be done.”

Thomson Reuters has both bibliometric and reputation data, which we thought were important to include in the Global Best Universities rankings methodology,” they added.

The impact of the new formula can also be seen among US institutions, whose order has seen somewhat of a shakeup since the national ranking was released in September.

For example, UC Berkeley’s third place spot makes it the nation’s highest ranked public institution, having come in at 20th on the previous table, while its cousin UCLA comes in at eighth position, up from 23rd in the national ranking.

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