QS Stars: Methodology

QS Stars: Methodology

QS Stars is a rating system that provides a detailed look at an institution, enabling you to identify which universities are the best in the specific topics that you care about, like program strength, facilities, graduate employability, social responsibility, inclusiveness, and more.

QS Stars understands that universities are different to one another and therefore need to be assessed on a range of categories that recognize distinct strengths. It also recognizes that each student is looking for something different, and not all universities – even the highest ranked institutions – suit every student.

Using QS Stars when searching for your future program will help you understand which universities have performed well against a comprehensive list of indicators, allowing you to match your interests to the universities that are strong in the topics that matter to you.

In the methodology used for QS Stars, universities are evaluated in dozens of indicators across at least eight categories. After the assessment, universities are awarded with an overall Star result which ranges from 0 to 5+ Stars, depending on the number of points achieved through the evaluation.

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated December 22, 2023 Updated December 22

What criteria does QS Stars use when rating universities, and why? 

There’s been much discussion around what attributes form a world-class university, particularly with the growing popularity of university rankings and the data used to assess universities worldwide. 

The criteria used in rankings and other assessments is key: each university is different and finding commonalities can be a challenge. QS Stars is different: we rate universities rather than rank them. To make the ratings process as straightforward and fair as possible, QS Stars methodology is based on several critical categories that assess universal, core strengths – including some that are overlooked in other university assessments and rankings. 


Indicators considered here include assessments of research quality amongst academics, productivity (i.e. number of papers published), citations (i.e. how recognized and referred to those papers are by other academics) and awards (e.g. Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals).


A key role of a university is the nurture of tomorrow's finest minds, inspiring the next generation of potential research academics. Typical indicators in teaching quality assessments are collation of student feedback through national student surveys, further study rate and student faculty ratio.

Academic Development

This category is an alternate to the Research Category. The Academic Development category looks at institutions' efforts to enhance students' learning experience outside of the classroom. Some of these efforts could include: Number of faculty office hours that academic faculty dedicate every week for students to discuss assignments. In this category we also look at the availability of academic learning centers for students - as well as -teaching and research assistantship opportunities. 


Graduate employability encompasses more than academic strength, focusing on ‘work-readiness’ - the ability to work effectively in a multi-cultural team, to deliver presentations, to manage people and projects. Common indicators in this area are surveys of employers, graduate employment rates and careers service support.


Here, effective indicators could be the proportion of international students and staff, the numbers of exchange students arriving and departing, the number of nationalities represented in the student body, the number and strength of international partnerships with other universities and the presence of religious facilities.


University infrastructure is an indicator which enables students to know what to expect from their university experience. Indicators such as sporting, IT, library and medical facilities, as well as the number of students societies are considered within this criterion.

Online/Distance learning

This category looks at various indicators such as student services and technology, track record, student faculty engagement, student interaction, commitment to online and reputation of the university.

Social Responsibility

Engagement measures how seriously a university takes its obligations to society by investing in the local community as well as in charity work and disaster relief. It also analyses the regional human capital development and environmentally awareness.


Innovation, the output of the universities activities and findings to economy, society and culture, has become increasingly relevant for universities.

Arts & Culture

Effective indicators are the number of concerts and exhibitions organized by the institution, the number of credits and cultural awards and cultural investment.


This area looks at the accessibility of the university to students, particularly at scholarships and bursaries, disability access, gender balance and low-income outreach.

Specialist Criteria

Excellence in a narrow field is as valid a claim to world-class status as competence in the round. These criteria are designed to extend credit where it's due. This category looks at accreditations and discipline rankings.

For more in-depth information about QS Stars, visit the QS Intelligence Unit website.

This article was originally published in December 2019 . It was last updated in December 2023

Written by

As editor of TopUniversities.com, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.


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