THE releases the 2020 Impact Rankings based on Sustainable Development Goals: has anything changed? Ruth’s Rankings Update

  • What university has the top Impact composite score?
  • What university is tops in Asia?
  • What do the University of Massachusetts (U Mass) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have in common?
  • What region is the star?

(26 April 2020) Last year, Ruth’s Rankings 38 provided background on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Ruth’s Rankings 41 featured THE’s Impact Rankings of universities based on these goals. We concluded that the rankings were interesting but could only answer the question: “Who are the most impactful universities who answered the survey?” What has changed in the 2020 rankings?

All 17 goals are now ranked. The underlined categories in the list below are the goals added in 2020.

  • Goal 1: No poverty -End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger – Achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing – Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
  • Goal 4: Quality education – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5: Gender Equity – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6. Clean water and sanitation – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequalities – Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13: Climate action – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts* (* United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international,
    intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change)
  • Goal 14: Life below water – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15: Life on land – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

All goals include a research component including bibliometric indicators using keyword searches in Scopus that cannot be replicated. See Appendix (in pdf) updated from RR 41, for the bibliometric indicators.

767 universities have composite scores which is 299 more than last year. They represent 85 countries. Six countries have been added and one dropped out. Japan has the most ranked universities at 63. It is followed by the Russian Federation with 47. Turkey, the UK, and the U.S. all have at least 30 universities. Some of the 2019 universities either dropped out or did not meet the composite criteria. In order for a university to receive a composite score, SDG 17 plus three other SDGs must be submitted.

10 countries are represented in the top 20. 12 different universities from 2019 are in the top 20 and five of them were not on the 2019 composite list.  Six are from Oceana.  Seven are from four countries in Europe. The University of Auckland repeats at number one. It provided data for 15 of the 17 SDGs and is in the top ten for 10 SDGs  See Table 1 (in pdf) for the world top 20.

Oceana is the star region. Four of the top five and six of the top 10 composite places go to universities from Australia or New Zealand. 20 universities or 70% of universities from Oceana are in the top 100.  Only three U.S. universities are in the top 100 with 14 in the top 200 and their world ranks range from five to 1000+. The UK fairs better with four in the top 20 and 20 in the top 100.  17 Asian universities are in the top 100, with the Chinese university Tongii at the top of the list. There are three from Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea, two from Taiwan and Malaysia and one from China, Hong Kong, India and Iran.  See Table 2 (in pdf) for the top universities in Oceana, Asian and the U.S.

An additional 91 universities from 36 countries submitted at least one SDG. Iraq with 12 and Japan with 10 have the most additions. The list includes universities from two countries represented in the 2019 but not 2020 rankings. There is also no way on the Impact Rankings website to find out if a university is represented in any SDG if it does not have a composite score. James Cook is on that list. Last year it ranked 11th in the world and this year it is first for SDG 17. You will not find it listed if you search for Australian universities. THE shared the list of 91 universities with me.

To find out any university’s overall performance, each SDG has to be checked. Six world number ones for SDGs went to Oceana and six to North America, an increase for both regions. 16 Asian universities from 11 different countries were tops in the region. Table 3 (in pdf) lists the top university from the world, Oceana and Asia for each of the 17 SDGs with their SDG rank.



I realize that the Impact Rankings can never claim to be the most impactful universities in the world.  It is based on universities that chose to supply data for unverifiable metrics.  What it does accomplish is:

  • Highlighting the broader role of universities to become engaged in important national initiatives and contribute to real world problems. Ruth’s Rankings 20 explored this issue in presenting the concept of flagship universities.
  • Neutralizing the advantage of well-known universities with high reputation and overall high citation scores. The median world rank for the Impact top 20 is 173. U Mass, 201-250 in the world, and MIT, fifth in the world, have the same composite score of 101-200. The top university in Asia is China’s 13th ranked Tongii University, a world 401-500. The English as a first language bias has not been neutralized.
  • Showcasing universities that are not in the world rankings. For example, there are two Iraqi universities in the World ranking and 18 with composite scores plus 12 more with at least one SDG in the Impact Ranking.



Bothwell, Ellie. (22 April 2020). THE Impact Rankings 2020:  Results announced. Registration required to access at

Thanks to THE’s Ellie Bothwell and Toby Silk for providing additional data.


Ruth’s Rankings

A list of Ruth’s Rankings is here.

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 –