Methodology

Discover the world’s top universities. Explore the QS World University Rankings® 2021.

This year’s QS World University Rankings reveals the top 1,000 universities from around the world, covering 80 different locations. There are 47 new entrants in this year’s top 1,000 while over 5,500 universities were evaluated and considered for inclusion.

As the methodology below makes clear, several indicators are used in compiling the ranking. For this year’s ranking, our academic reputation survey received 102,262 unique responses while the employer reputation survey received 51,649 unique responses. In addition, over 18.5 million academic papers were recorded and over 138 million citations were tracked, in order to measure the citations per faculty indicator.

Updated June 10, 2020 Updated June 10

The QS World University Rankings continue to enjoy a remarkably consistent methodological framework, compiled using six simple metrics that we believe effectively capture university performance. Since faculty area normalisation was introduced in 2015 to ensure that institutions specialising in Life Sciences and Natural Sciences were not unduly advantaged, we have avoided fundamental changes. In doing so, we aim to ensure that year-on-year comparisons remain valid, and that unnecessary volatility is minimised.

Thus, universities continue to be evaluated according to the following six metrics:

  1. Academic Reputation
  2. Employer Reputation
  3. Faculty/Student Ratio
  4. Citations per faculty
  5. International Faculty Ratio
  6. International Student Ratio

Academic reputation (40%)

The highest weighting of any metric is allotted to an institution’s Academic Reputation score. Based on our Academic Survey, it collates the expert opinions of over 100,000 individuals in the higher education space regarding teaching and research quality at the world’s universities. In doing so, it has grown to become the world’s largest survey of academic opinion, and, in terms of size and scope, is an unparalleled means of measuring sentiment in the academic community.

Employer reputation (10%)

Students will continue to perceive a university education as a means by which they can receive valuable preparation for the employment market. It follows that assessing how successful institutions are at providing that preparation is essential for a ranking whose primary audience is the global student community.

Our Employer Reputation metric is based on almost 50,000 responses to our QS Employer Survey, and asks employers to identify those institutions from which they source the most competent, innovative, effective graduates. The QS Employer Survey is also the world’s largest of its kind.

Faculty/Student Ratio (20%)

Teaching quality is typically cited by students as the metric of highest importance to them when comparing institutions using a ranking. It is notoriously difficult to measure, but we have determined that measuring teacher/student ratios is the most effective proxy metric for teaching quality. It assesses the extent to which institutions are able to provide students with meaningful access to lecturers and tutors, and recognizes that a high number of faculty members per student will reduce the teaching burden on each individual academic.

Citations per faculty (20%)

Teaching is one key pillar of an institution’s mission. Another is research output. We measure institutional research quality using our Citations per Faculty metric. To calculate it, we take the total number of citations received by all papers produced by an institution across a five-year period by the number of faculty members at that institution.

To account for the fact that different fields have very different publishing cultures – papers concerning the Life Sciences are responsible nearly half of all research citations as of 2015 – we normalize citations. This means that a citation received for a paper in Philosophy is measured differently to one received for a paper on Anatomy and Physiology, ensuring that, in evaluating an institution’s true research impact, both citations are given equal weight.

We use a five-year publication window for papers, so for this edition we looked at papers published from 2014 to 2018. We then take a look at a six-year citation window; reflecting the fact that it takes time for research to be effectively disseminated. In this edition we look for citations from 2014-2019.

All citations data is sourced using Elsevier’s Scopus database, the world’s largest repository of academic journal data. This year, QS assessed 138 million citations from 18.5 million papers once self-citations were excluded.

International faculty ratio/International student ratio (5% each)

A highly international university acquires and confers a number of advantages. It demonstrates an ability to attract faculty and students from across the world, which in turn suggests that it possesses a strong international brand. It implies a highly global outlook: essentially for institutions operating in an internationalised higher education sector. It also provides both students and staff alike with a multinational environment, facilitating exchange of best practices and beliefs. In doing so, it provides students with international sympathies and global awareness: soft skills increasingly valuable to employers. Both of these metrics are worth 5% of the overall total.

This article was originally published in January 2020 . It was last updated in June 2020

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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