By Jack Moran, An education writer for QS
UK universities top eight subject tables in international rankings published today by QS. The University of Sussex topples Harvard University in the development studies table, retaking the number-one position. Loughborough University, meanwhile, is ranked the world’s joint best university for the study of sports-related subjects
The University of Oxford is the UK’s major winner this year. In taking four number-one positions, it is one of only three universities to record world-leading performance in more than one subject, the others being Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The annual guide to the higher education leaders for 46 different subjects also reveals some notable shifts. In particular, there is increasingly stiff competition from countries such Russia and China, which both increase their overall share of subjects listed. This is in contrast to the US and UK, which decrease their share despite remaining dominant in many tables.
The rankings are based on data for academic reputation, employer reputation, research citations per paper and H-index (research impact).
QS has introduced four new subjects this year: anatomy and physiology, hospitality and leisure management, sports-related subjects, and theology, divinity and religious studies. Data is also available grouped into five faculties, or subject areas.
UK and Europe
Research is based on data collected over a five-year period, mitigating to some extent the impact of recent political upheavals.
The UK has one fewer top spot than last year – the University of Cambridge loses its world-leading position for maths, and in fact is no longer the world’s top institution for any of the subjects assessed – but the UK still manages to retain a broadly unchanged proportion of top-50 positions (approximately 15% in both 2016 and 2017).
There are some reasons for concern, however. The metric “employer reputation” allows employers to express their confidence in the quality of graduates produced by a higher education system and, implicitly, in national employment markets. You would expect some fluctuation to occur year-on-year, but it is still difficult to ignore the fact that the average employer reputation score for Russell Group universities has decreased from 74.4 to 71.6.
Over in France, the number of top-100 placements decrease from 83 in 2016 to 66 in 2017. The country faces a number of challenges, including funding issues and a seemingly-inexorable brain drain), which could explain why academics responding to our survey express, on average, reduced confidence in French institutions. The Netherlands and Germany suffer similar threats, and are seeing similar trends.
China and India
Asia’s major player, conversely, is having no such issues. China increases its overall share of places and its share of top-50 places (from 65 in 2016 to 79 in 2017). The increase is, proportionally, minor – approximately half a percentage point. But at the country level these trends become meaningful, especially when repeated over a number of years.
When it comes to top 10 places across the 46 tables, the US and UK between them still take just under two-thirds. China’s next frontier may be greater representation in the top 10.
India, though, remains some way off. Though the University of Delhi can boast the world’s 16th best development studies programme, its success is a rare oasis in what is otherwise, for India, a top-50 desert.
Instead, India’s priority is providing an adequate supply of competitive higher education institutions for its rapidly growing young population, while also raising its research profile. This year’s tables offer some evidence of this. Twenty-eight Indian institutions are now represented across the tables – an increase from 22 in 2016’s admittedly smaller edition – and it sees its overall share of the 11,424 available places increase fractionally.
However, the scale of the task is clear for the world’s third-largest higher education system. The US, in total, has roughly four times as many degree-granting institutions as India – but over eight times as many ranked institutions in these tables (180 to India’s 22).
Though disparities between providers will exist in any higher education system, Latin America’s major nations remain conspicuous in the dominance enjoyed by one flagship university.
For example, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is responsible for 32 of Chile’s 98 placements, while it takes nine of the country’s 12 top-50 spots. Argentina’s Universidad de Buenos Aires is responsible for 31 of Argentina’s 44 ranked subjects, with no other Argentinian university ranked in more than five tables.
The situation is somewhat better in Brazil, but the Universidade de São Paulo is still responsible for the majority of Brazil’s top-50 placements.
These subject rankings shine the spotlight on institutions that often do not enjoy recognition in the overall league tables: the University of Nevada, Wageningen University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Sussex all lead the world for one subject this year.