Ruth’s Rankings News Flash! 2019-04: QS 2020 offers little to write about

  • Which top 10 universities have made the greatest gains in rankings since 2004?
  • Who is number one in Singapore?
  • What Asian country added the most universities from 2019?

(24 June 2019) QS received more than enough coverage in April’s Ruth’s Rankings 40, where we analyzed QS 2019 subject rankings and surveys. Now it is June 2019 and it is 2020 in the QS world. Since the new rankings cannot be ignored, we provide a brief update to last June’s Newsflash.

The 2020 list includes rankings for 1,001 universities with an additional 70 listed that have scores on one or more of the metrics but no composite score. The methodology has remained the same since 2015, with 40% of the score based on Academic Reputation and 10% on Employer Reputation. Fewer than 600 universities have academic reputation scores. The bibliometric indicator used is Citations Per Faculty, normalized by subject. The world’s Top 10 are the same as last year, with changes in order. Seven of the top 10 are the same as in the first ranking in 2004. Five of the top 10 are from the United States, four from the United Kingdom and one from Switzerland.  See Table 1 (in pdf) for the Top 10 in the world.

Eight of Asia’s top ten are the same as in 2004 as shown in Table 2 (in pdf). National University of Singapore remained at 11 in the world this year, tied with Nanyang Technological University. Singapore, China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea each have two universities in the top 10. What is most interesting is the change in world rankings between 2004 and 2020 for some of these Asian universities, as shown in Figure 1.

Nineteen Asia-Pacific countries have at least one university in the rankings as shown in Table 3 (in pdf). The only notable change from 2019 is the addition of seven Malaysian universities.  The total gain for Asia/Pac is two universities, with Japan losing three, Australia losing two, and India and Taiwan losing one. There were no changes to the number of universities from the nine countries added since 2004.

Table 4 (in pdf) compares regional performance from the first THE/QS rankings in 2004 with the first available QS online rankings in 2016-2017 and the latest 2020 rankings. 2004 only ranked 200 universities from a limited number of countries. The number of Asia/Pac countries has increased from 10 to 19. In 2004, there were no African countries and just one in Latin America. 78% of the universities were from Europe and North America. Today there are more universities from Asia than North America.

QS highlighted the drop in U.S. and U.K. universities, considering the drop in international students in both countries as a factor. These two countries still dominate the top 100. Geographically large countries, such as the U.S. which covers over 8,000 kilometers from Honolulu to Boston or countries where English is not the primary language of higher education are automatically not going to do as well in this metric. The U.K. still has six universities in the top 20.

QS rankings are part of the top three, along with Times Higher Education and Shanghai’s ARWU. No university should make long term decisions based on these or any one other ranking.  50% of QS is based on reputation. Their citation metric, Citations Per Faculty, tends to favor smaller research universities, such as Cal Tech, ranked at four, while Oxford is the only British university in the top 50.  Five of the top ten are also top ten in Academic Reputation, while Princeton, Yale and University of California Berkeley, which had been top 10 in 2004, are still top ten in reputation.  Stanford, at 87, is the highest ranked U.S. university in international students with Harvard coming in at 221.

Are these the metrics that define a quality 21st century university or should we be looking at expanding the definition to include societal impact?  Ruth’s Rankings 41 will analyze the new THE impact rankings, based on UN Standard Development Goals, to see what it adds to the ranking landscape.

Resource:  What’s your position on university rankings? A podcast by Zaharom Nain, Professor of Communications and Media Studies, University of Nottingham Malaysia addresses some of the issues with the rankings that should not be new to our readers.  It reminds listeners of ranking issues.  Accessed 20/6/19 at


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 –