The changes see sustainability, employment outcomes and international research network factored in the rankings, as well as recalibrating the weighting of certain existing factors.
This means the QS World Rankings, which features 1,500 institutions across 104 locations, is now the only one of its kind to emphasise both employability and sustainability.
The reason for the amendments is to “closely align” its flagship rankings with the priorities of Gen Z and Alpha who are “increasingly socially conscious students”, said Ben Sowter, senior vice president, QS.
The decision to include Sustainability came after QS launched its inaugural stand alone Sustainability Rankings for 2023.
“It received overwhelming support throughout our approach and as a result, we felt that it was critical to derive an indicator from that work and include it in the main QS World University Rankings,” said Sowter.
In addition, he highlighted demand from students as a reason for the change – some 88% of prospective students claim that it’s essential or very important that the university takes action to reduce their environmental impact, according to a recent QS survey.
“That connects back to that notion of brand association that students are getting into for life with their institutions, lining up those values and demonstrating that institutions care about the same things,” said Sowter.
Sustainability now makes up 5% of the rankings’ methodology.
University of California, Berkeley, named world’s leader in the QS Sustainability rankings, returned to the top 10 in the 2024 QS World Rankings, after a prolonged absence, moving from number 27 to 10.
Along with consulted stakeholders, QS was keen to strengthen the resolution with which it looks at employability of universities worldwide, said Sowter, hence introducing the additional measure of employment outcomes at 5% this year.
“An institution’s ability to make that global impact and really be recognised for their capability is directly linked to their ability to produce graduates who themselves go on to make the right leadership choices and make a global impact,” said Sowter.
International research network is also making up 5% of the methodology.
The world’s challenges will be solved by breaking down borders and working together, said Sowter.
“It’s critically important that universities take responsibility for bringing the best and brightest minds in different disciplines and different fields together to collaborate on solving some of those problems.”
However, new metrics added means weight has been taken away from others, including faculty student ratio being reduced by 10%, along with academic reputation at 10%.
“We foresee the future of universities as crucial contributors in shaping a more sustainable, connected and inclusive world”
Mark Clayton, strategic planning officer at the University of Birmingham reacted to the new methodology used in the new rankings, calling it “broadly positive”.
“It’s bringing in elements of employability, internationality and sustainability that make sense in the context of 2023. We have an ongoing dialogue with QS [about the methodology] and we’ve always been a critical friend. They welcomed that and that’s why they are respected. It’s a difficult job for them to try and keep everybody happy, given competing influences and different global systems,” said Clayton.
Such changes have caused a “significant shift in results” for some universities, said Sowter, while encouraging stakeholders to see the shake-up as an “important reset”.
He cited Australia as an example of a country where institutions were previously constrained in performance by faculty student ratio, due to having comparatively low ratios.
Broadly speaking, institutions in Australia have performed extremely strongly against the new approach, with three Australian universities in the top 20 for the first time. The University of Melbourne, at number 14, achieved a historic high for any Australian university in this ranking.
“Ireland is a similar story. At Irish institutions, generally speaking, faculty-student ratios were a constraining factor on their previous performance and as a result of that, primarily, Irish institutions are finding themselves in higher positions,” Sowter detailed.
“The one exception to that is the University of Galway that had a stronger performance faculty-student ratio based on the data that we’ve been able to gather, and is the only Irish institution that finds itself in a lower position in the 2024 edition than in the 2023 edition.”
Meanwhile, institutions where the faculty-student ratios were systematically very high, such as those in Central Asia, Korea and Japan, have struggled the most to sustain comparable positions to the previous approach, said Sowter.
Other key takeaways from the 2024 Rankings include the 75% of African institutions which fared better, with nine new entries coming from the continent.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrates 12 years at the top, the University of Cambridge remains in second place while the University of Oxford climbs one position to number three.
“We foresee the future of universities not just as providers of education, but as crucial contributors in shaping a more sustainable, connected, and inclusive world,” said Jessica Turner, chief executive, QS.
“As we look forward, we’re committed to supporting transformative changes and fostering lasting impact in the global education sector.”