Ruth’s Rankings News Update September 2019: Bogged down in new releases from NTU, THE and others

By Ruth A. Pagell*

  • Who is number one in the world in September?
  • Who is number one in East Asia?
  • Should Ireland be concerned about the performance of its top universities?
  • Has Malaysia really improved in THE’s rankings?

(26 Sep 2019) This update presents the new NTU (National Taiwan University) and THE rankings. It provides additional readings on universities’ social and sustainability roles and reports a change in the bibliometric business industry.

NTU Ranking: Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities and THE (Times Higher Education World University Rankings)  released their latest rankings in early September. NTU dates its rankings as 2019. THE dates its ranking as 2020. The September 2018 News Flash covered last year’s changes for these two rankings.

The rankings focus on different aspects of university performance. NTU uses only third party bibliometric data from Clarivate Analytics. Bibliometric indicators from Elsevier comprise 38.5% of THE’s methodology and 33% is from reputation surveys.  Universities must provide data to be ranked on other indicators. At the top, five world and six East Asian universities are the same in the two rankings.  See Table 1 below for a comparison of world and Asian top 10 universities.

Performance Rankings of Scientific Papers for World Universities – NTU Rankings 2019

We start with NTU since THE gets all the publicity. See Ruth’s Rankings 6   for background on NTU Rankings. The release includes world rankings back to the first release in 2007, six field, and 24 subject rankings.

800 universities, based on the number of papers and citations as counted by Clarivate Analytics Essential Science Indicators, receive overall rankings. Thirty-five more are ranked for their subject specialties. The top 500 receive individual rankings; the next 300 are in bands of 50. This year, NTU changed how it counted journal articles to publication year not database year. It uses 2017-2018 for publications and 2008-2018 data for its citation counts. Table 2 (in pdf) presents the tops in the world and East Asia for 2019 and 2007, the rankings first year, with a chart illustrating the drop in Japanese university rankings and the rise in Chinese rankings.

Because of the emphasis on quantity Harvard is number one in four of six fields and 10 subjects. Tsinghua is next with four engineering related subjects.  See Table 3 (in pdf) for field and subject rankings.

THE World University Rankings 2020

THE released its 2020 rankings while I was on a family visit and add-on vacation in Ireland. I was more concerned about hiking in bogs and over rocks than university rankings.  Our tour leader asked me where my relative worked and when I said UCD she said she had just read how UCD had fallen in the rankings.  Actually, it was Trinity (Mooney). At the same time, my editor sent me an article about Malaysia adding two universities to THE’s rankings (Soo).

1,396 universities are listed. Only the top 200 receive individual ranks. Little has changed at the top of THE’s rankings. See Table 4 (in pdf) where eight of the top 10 world and East Asian universities are the same as 2004.

Here are some quick facts about country distribution:

  • 20 countries from East and Southern Asia and Oceana are in the rankings with a total of 425 universities.
  • Japan leads with 110 (THE does a separate Japan ranking), followed by China, India, Taiwan and Australia.
  • Japan also leads with over 50% of their universities ranked 1,000+, followed by India, Taiwan, Thailand and China.
  • Three new Asian countries were added: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, and Vietnam.

For a more detailed THE inspired country by country breakdown see “China, Japan raise pressure on US, UK in global ranking” in University World News.

Let’s see what it means for Trinity to fall and Malaysia to add two universities.

Example 1:  THE and Ireland

The Irish Times ran two articles on September 11, 2019.  One is the attention-grabbing article of Trinity’s 44-point fall (Mooney). The second is an analysis by O’Brien, which looks beyond rankings to scores. I recommend looking at changes in scores, but I rarely see anyone looking beyond the ranks.  See Table 5 (below) for the 2020 and 2019 scores for Trinity and UCD.  Also included for comparison is the score for the 120th university in 2020, National Taiwan University.  Related to THE metrics, Irish universities show two weaknesses. They are not in THE’s top 100 World Reputation rankings and in 2020 they were ranked 293 and 323 in citations.

Example 2:  THE and Malaysia

Ruth’s Rankings 24  (March 2017) examined Malaysian universities after an announcement of budget cuts to the top universities.  The Malay Mail (Soo, 12 Sep 2019) analyzes the performance of the Malaysian and ASEAN universities in THE’s rankings. Malaysian universities chose not to participate in THE’s rankings until 2016, with the University of Malaya joining in 2018. The highest ranked University of Malaya, at 301-350, is tied at 28 with six other east Asian universities. The article fails to mention that THE added 138 universities to the list, 46 of which are from East /Southeast Asia. Table 6 (in pdf) displays Malaysia’s university rankings from their initial appearance in the rankings in 2016. It also includes the government’s latest Setara rankings (Sin). It is not clear if the two additions result from improved performance or a willingness to participate. For countries such as Malaysia, where achieving top 500 status will be difficult, analysis should focus on the individual strengths of the universities through individual indicators and subject rankings.


The table below (Soo) presents the top ASEAN universities, dominated by Malaysia. Noticeably absent are the newer Singaporean universities. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are still unrepresented.

Soo, WJ (2019)

Conclusion on rankings

NTU and THE use different indicators and metrics. The top universities remain consistent and similar.  Adding more universities increases the number at the bottom. As these rankings repeat every year, more meaningful data for universities appears at a micro level, such as individual indicators and subject rankings.

Both rankings show improvement in the rankings of Chinese universities as the government continues to fund its institutions’ research efforts. O’Brien commented that Irish universities were “treading water”. This refers to many established universities who are not chasing the rankings.

There is concern outside China at its attempts to interfere with academic freedom and the effect this will have on the long-term future of Chinese universities.  See “Obstacles to Excellence” for an in-depth analysis of this issue (Scholars at Risk).  We will use the late October US News release of the final global rankings of this year’s cycle to look at the growth of the Chinese presence across all of our ranking sources.

Update to Ruth’s Rankings 29  on geopolitics and Ruth’s Rankings 41 on sustainable development

Hazelkorn published “Rankings and the public good role of higher education” in the fall edition of International Higher Education.  She looks at our traditional rankings and other university ratings on societal impact. One source is the UI (University of Indonesia) GreenMetric World University Rankings. The 2019 rankings will be available in December. She also mentions QS Stars.  Universities pay QS for the analysis and have no control over what stars they are given.  Only 105 of 1,002 universities have stars. Retrieve QS Rise of Social Responsibility in Higher Education” . QS also releases Sustainability in Higher Education: What More Can Universities Do? on September 30th.

Update to the business of bibliometrics (Ruth’s Rankings 32)

The September 23 2019  Scholarly Kitchen discusses the public listing of Clarivate Analytics followed by the CEO leaving the company (Schonfeld). Schonfeld’s post was quickly followed by a release from the new CEO Jerre Stead who seems to have spent his career as a professional CEO. Having followed the twists and turns of the former ISI from its old building in West Philadelphia to Thomson-Reuters and now to another listed corporation, I personally am concerned about its publisher-neutral focus on the scholarly community in juxtaposition to its stockholder focus on short term return on investment.


China, Japan raise pressure on US, UK in global ranking (12 Sep 2019). University World News, accessed at  This post has no author attribution and is based totally on information provided by THE.

Hazelkorn, E (2019).  Rankings and the public good role of higher education.  International Higher Education, No 99:7-9, accessed at

Mooney, S. (11 Sep 2019).  TCD’s falling rankings: “It does not give me confidence in the Irish system”.  Irish Times,  accessed at

O’Brien, C. (11 Sep 2019).  Irish universities tread water while rivals make waves. Irish Times, accessed at

Scholars at risk (24 Sep 2019). Obstacles to excellence & China’s quest for world-class universities.  Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring project, accessed at:

Schonfeld, RC (23 Sep 2019).  Breaking News: Annette Thomas leaves Clarivate.  Scholarly Kitchen, accessed at  followed by a reply by new CEO Jerre Stead accessed at

Sin, N (5 Apr 2018).  Malaysia’s top universities according to the Setara 2017 university ratings posted on EduAdvsor, accessed at

Soo, WJ (12 Sep 2019).  Two more Malaysian universities join the Times Higher Education ladder in 2020 rankings.accessed at

The Rise in Social Responsibility in higher education, published as part of QS Stars, request a copy at

Zarhom, B. (2 Nov 2018).  2019 Budget: RM400m allocated universities’ R&D programmes.  New Straits Times, accessed at

*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 –