QS, THE, and new bibliometric findings: Ruth’s Rankings first quarter 2020 updates

By Ruth A. Pagell*

(7 Apr 2020) The first quarter of the year is a slow time for updated rankings.  Three new updates are QS’ subject rankings and THE’s Japan Universities and Emerging Economies.  Two articles in the Nature Index blog are of bibliometric interest.

  • How do subject rankings in QS compare with those in THE, U.S. News, and ARWU?What is an advantage of the QS rankings?
  • Who is number one in Japan and are there other surprises?
  • What are the differences between THE Emerging Economies and THE World Rankings?
  • Why don’t Nobel Laureate physicists publish more in Nature and Science?
  • What does the inventor of the H-Index have to say about its value?


Ruth’s Rankings examined subject updates from THE and U.S. News in the 2019 wrap up.  RR 40 delved more deeply into the QS subject rankings. The 2020 edition includes 1,368 universities from 83 locations up from 1,128 universities in 78 locations in 2019. These rankings include 366 more institutions than are in the World Rankings. The number of subjects remains at 48, arranged in five categories. Only nine of the 48 subjects have new leaders.

The U.S. dominates with 30 number one spots. 22 universities are in the top 10 across the five categories. Two of the top 10 in Life Sciences and Medicine are not in the world rankings because they do not teach undergraduates.

20 universities are in the top 10 in Asia/Pac across the five categories.  Australia has six followed by China with four, Hong Kong and Japan with three and South Korea and Singapore with two.

Australia has the most institutions in the top 100 in Asia/Pac across all five categories, followed by China, Japan and South Korea. Engineering &Technology has the highest number of Asia/Pac universities and the highest percent of top 100 universities.  See Table 1 (in pdf) for the distribution of Asia/Pac countries across the five categories.

Tables 2 through 4 compare QS subject rankings for the World and Asia/Pac with comparable subjects from THE, U.S. News, and ARWU. The top universities for the World, Asia and Oceana are listed. See the Tables and comparisons in Appendix One (in pdf).  Click here for RR’s THE and U.S. News subject updates and click here for ARWU’s subject updates.

The same universities at the top of many of the subjects question the rankings overall usefulness. One value is in disciplines not well covered in many rankings, such as subjects under Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences & Management.  Institutions not eligible for world ranking because they focus on a specific subject are ranked under specialties.  Other subjects include institutions that only teach graduate students which are excluded from THE rankings.  Examples include:

  • Art & Design, led by the Royal Academy of Arts and including RMIT, Tongji University (China) and Hong Kong Poly in the top 15
  • Performing Arts, led by the Juilliard School with Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in seventh. Eight of the top 10 are specialized institutions
  • Medicine: UC San Francisco (#1 in ARWU) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will not be found in THE and they are in QS


Ruth’s Rankings introduced THE’s new Japan University rankings in a 2017  News Flash and in RR28 and updated them in a 2018 News Flash.  I skipped 2019 since there was little change. This year. Tohoku University claims the top spot previously held by The University of Tokyo in 2017, jointly by Tokyo and Kyoto in 2018, and Kyoto in 2019.  Two of the 2020 Japan top 20 have higher overall scores than in the first ranking in 2017 and two have a higher world ranking. Prior to the special Japan rankings in 2017, the number in the World rankings in 2016 was 41 out of 800. In 2020 there are 110 out of 1,398.  As THE adds more Japanese universities to the rankings, more end up in the bottom with over 50% in the bottom tier 2020. See Table 5 in Appendix Two (in pdf) for rankings and analysis.  See the methodology for the unique metrics that are used.


THE’s Emerging Economies includes 533 institutions from 47 countries. Bangladesh, Iceland, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are the latest additions. THE Emerging Economies began in 2014 as “BRICS and Emerging Economies” with 18 countries and 100 institutions.  Rather than using the standard  World Bank designations based on national income, THE uses the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) designations, based on a country’s stock exchange.  It is like comparing caviar to catfish. Based on World Bank data, some countries fall into the high income category such as Iceland (6th) and Qatar (8th) with incomes over $60,000 per capita while others are in the lower middle income category such as Bangladesh  (151th) or Kenya (153th) with per capita incomes under $1,200.

18 countries from all of Asia comprise 40% of the countries, 45% of the institutions, and 72% of the top 100. The universities in Emerging Economies are the same as those in the world rankings. The top four universities and seven of the top 10 are Chinese, with Tsinghua as number one. See Table 6 (in pdf) for the top EE university and the number of entries per Asian country. China leads with 81 followed by India with 56. Saudi Arabia, in its first appearance, has five universities in the top 100.

Table 7 (in pdf) has the EE and world rankings for the top ten, plus the top from each of the other Asian countries. Note the disparity between the World and EE rankings for Fudan and Shanghai Jiao Tong.  The methodology for EE uses the same metrics with a modification to the weightings. The five pillars, Teaching, Research, Citations, International Outlook and Industry Income are the same and the scores for the first three are exactly the same as shown in Example 1 below.

QS takes a different approach, grouping countries by region.  The QS methodology uses different metrics and weightings for each region. The rankings were released during the fourth quarter of 2019.  The addition of universities NOT in QS global rankings and the application of different methodologies per region makes these rankings more meaningful.

Follow up: SDGs: Lund University introduced a new graduate program in UN Sustainable development goals. The article also links to other universities SDG initiatives (Myklebust, 2020).  THE announced that 850 universities participated in their SDG survey this year, up from 500 last year.

Myklebust, J.P. (Jan 2020). First graduate school programme on SDGs hugely popular.  University World News accessed at https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200123101649218

JOURNAL METRICS from Nature Index blog

H-Index:  Conroy summarizes an article from Physics and Society Newsletter highlighting the problems with the H-Index as identified by its creator, Jorge H Hirsch.  Ruth’s Ranking 3 introduced the H-Index and further analyzed it in RR 16 but never tackled all of the issues around its validity. Three that Hirsch highlights are deterring innovation, encouraging publications on hot topics, and the variation in H-index depending on field. The original publication goes into more detail with a personal example from Hirsch.

Conroy, G. (24 March 2020). What’s wrong with the H-Index, according to its inventor: “Severe unintended negative consequences” Nature Index accessed at:


Hirsch, J.E. (2020).  Superconductivity:  What the H?  The emperor has no clothes.  Physics and Society Newsletter, 49(1) 4-9.  Pages 4 and 5 are most relevant.  Accessed at arXiv:2001.09496 [physics.hist-ph]

Publications in Physics – Conroy also reports on an article in Scientometrics that examines where Nobel Laureates in Physics publish their articles (Bjørk). The top journals are Physical Review Letters and Astrophysical Journal rather than Nature or Science. Bjørk concluded that they chose to publish in their own discipline and in journals with which they were most familiar.  Drilling down into the data using Clarivate Analytics Incites from 1980 – 2020 reveals that fewer than 10% of articles in Nature and Science are in these disciplines.  While citation impact is higher in Nature and Science, the number of citations is higher in the two discipline-specific journals, which may also be contributing factors.

Bjørk, R.  (Feb 2020). The journals in physics that publish Nobel Prize researchScientometrics, 122 ,817-823 (2020).  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11192-019-03312-8

Conroy, G. (16 Jan 2020). These four journals publish the most prize-winning papers in physics.  Nature Index   https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/journals-publish-most-nobel-prize-winning-research-papers-physics


As the world struggles to manage the Coronavirus, issues related to metrics and rankings have taken a back seat in the websites focusing on higher education and scholarly communications.  One topic that has not been discussed is the impact this might have on university rankings, especially those in QS and THE which include internationally focused metrics.

Ruth’s Ranking Students Part 2:  QS is delaying the release of its World University Rankings: USA until the end of May which has impacted the release date of the follow-up to RR 44.


*Here’s the complete list of Ruth’s Rankings

*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University.  After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii.  She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674