Ruth’s Rankings News Flash! 2018-4: ARWU Inclusion Increases

  • Harvard University is number one in the world as it has been since 2003.
  • The University of Tokyo remains number one in Asia.
  • Singapore University of Technology & Design is ranked as a “Candidate University”

(28 August 2018) Last August’s ARWU update focused on the expansion from 500 to 800 institutions.  In this August’s release, the number increases to 1,000. The bottom 500 are in a separate dataset.

The top 20 universities in 2018 are the same as the top 20 in 2017 with the top 10 in the same order. Nine of the top ten in  2003’s first ranking repeat in the top ten in 2018 as do 17 of the top 20.  50% of the top 100 are from the U.S. and Canada. Table1 lists the top 20 in the world for the first ranking in 2003 and for 2008, 2017 and 2018.

We can observe more change in the Asian rankings. Eight Asian universities are in the top 100, with three from Japan and two each from China and Singapore. Australia has six in the top 100. There were five in 2003, all from Japan.  Only three remain in the top 100, Tokyo, Kyoto and Nagoya. The highest ranked Chinese university in 2003 was Tsinghua in the 201-250 band, which still placed it in the Asian top ten as shown in Table 2, Asian rankings for 2003, 2008, 2017 and 2018.


In addition to its world rankings, ARWU released 54 academic subject rankings, up two from last year.  These rankings use different weightings but the same basic dataset.


In arriving at the top 500, ARWU considered over 1,500 universities that met their criteria. It continues to use articles from Science Citation Index and Social Science Citation Index for the source of bibliometrics. Only “articles” as a document type have been used since 2014.  Only the top 100 receive individual ranks.

44 countries are represented in the top 500 with a total of 61 countries in the entire 1,000.   Between 2004 and 2018 the number of Unites States institutions declined from 170 in the top 500 in 2004  to 139 in 2018.  Another loser is Japan dropping from 36 to 16 in the top 500. Mainland Chinese institutions have increased from six in 2004 to 51 today.  See Table 3 for country distribution. Pakistan is new in 2018.  See Figure 1 which includes a chart of regional distributions and an accompanying table for regional percentages.  For example, in 2004, the first year that ARWU provided statistics, 89 of the top 500 or 18% were from the Asia/Pacific region.


The 2018 edition continues to show little change at the top while it welcomes countries and institutions at the bottom.

There are two important factors to keep in mind when analyzing these rankings:

  1.  90% of the rankings are size dependent; 20% of the rankings are on number of papers published in Science Citation and Social Science Citation indexes; 20% are based on articles in Nature and Science  which also appear in the citation indexes.
  2. 30% of the rankings are based on Nobel prizes and awards, a pool of  institutions that changes very slowly and 20% comes from Highly cited researchers (top 1% in their field).  China is second to the United States in number of publications, citations and highly cited papers (Essential Science Indicators, July 2018).

See Ruth’s Ranking 34 for more information on these author metrics.  For more in-depth analysis of AWRU see Ruth’s Rankings 15 and 6.

While administrators might focus on the world rankings, it is probably the subject rankings that are more useful for most institutions.  They will never have the output capacity or the number of award winners to move up to the top 100.

Ruth’s Rankings News Flash! is written by Ruth A. Pagell, 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 –