By Ruth A. Pagell*
- Who is THE’s number one in the world again? Who was number one in 2004?
- How many Chinese universities are in THE’s top 20?
- Is it better to have a low rank than not to be ranked at all?
- Would you recommend using THE’s Small University Rankings?
(25 September 2020) We have barely had time to digest the newest ranking from QS and ARWU. Now we have to see what, if anything, is new from Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021. This is a quick overview of World rankings, Asian-related issues from the rankings, and “Best” Small Universities.
This year’s release has 1,527 universities from 93 countries, an increase of 130 institutions and one country. 200 have individual ranks. The bottom 527 are ranked as 1001+. 31% of the rankings are from Asia/Pac countries.
The underlying methodology has been the same since THE split with QS a decade ago. See RR 5 for background. The pillars of Teaching, Research, Citations, International outlook, and industry income are unchanged. Sources of bibliometric data changed from Web of Science to Scopus. Calculating citations from articles with large numbers of authors has been modified, and the dating of rankings changed from a joint year (2011-2012) to the year following the ranking’s release. The number of institutions has risen from 200 in 2011 to 1,527 today.
Overview of 2021 World Rankings for World and Asia/Pac Countries
Table 1 (in pdf) lists the World’s top 25 institutions for 2021, 2020 and 2004, the first year of THE/QS rankings. Eight of top 2021 are from the U.S. and two from the U.K. 16 of the top 25 are from the U.S., four from the U.K., two from China and one from Canada and Singapore. In 2004, 14 were from the U.S., 4 from the U.K., two from Australia, and one each from Canada, China, Japan and Singapore and Switzerland. The University of Oxford has been number one since 2014. Nine of the top 10 in 2004 are top 10 in 2021.
THE released its most recent Asia rankings in May 2020, using data from the 2020 World Rankings. Table 2 below lists the top 10 East Asian universities in both the World and Asia rankings. 2021’s Asia’s top 10 in the world include three from Hong Kong, two from China, Singapore, and Japan, and one from South Korea. This is the first year since the split from QS that an Asian institution, Tsinghua University, is in THE’s top 20. Tsinghua took over the number one spot in Asia from National University of Singapore in 2019.
The release of THE 2021 completed the new cycle for the Big Three, THE, QS, and ARWU. See Table 3 (in pdf) for a comparison of top 25. Seven of the top 10 are the same. Three different universities are ranked number one: THE- Oxford; MIT – QS; and ARWU – Harvard. The list includes 35 different institutions from nine different countries. The U.S. has the most universities in each ranking with a total of 18 different institutions.
China and the U.S.
THE 2021 features “China’s record-breaking achievements” including the first Asian university in THE’s top 20. In the joint THE/QS rankings of 2004, The University of Tokyo was ranked 12. NTU and NUS have been in the QS top 20 since 2016 and Tsinghua joined in 2019.
Simon Baker (2020) noted that “China is closing in on the U.S.” Acknowledging that the U.S. still dominates the top spots, he looks at what happened to four Chinese universities ranked 201-300 in 2016. They are part of China’s Ivy League, the C9. Bothwell (2020) adds that “China makes record-breaking achievements in latest league table as experts predict that the pandemic may accelerate the country’s rise”. China is now supporting the Double 42, increasing the number of Chinese institutions and adding authors and increasing output.
I analyzed Scopus data through SciVal but could not get a year on year comparison. However, using Scopus data from 2017 to the present, China is rapidly catching up. Web of Science data on Incites has China overtaking the U.S. in output between 2018 and 2019. An update is not the place to theorize on all the factors involved, including funding, different university systems and priorities, and the reality of rankings. As more institutions are added, they are not going to be from the countries which have mature research universities.
THE and Indian Institutes of Technology
Seven Indian Institutes of Technology declined participation in THE’s 2021 rankings citing lack of transparency as their reason (Gohain). THE responded that the Institutes’ move was counterproductive (Sharma).
RR 22 (2017) is an in-depth analysis of Indian universities, concluding that Indian institutions did not perform well in any rankings. The news is not all bad. Factoring in the increase in the number of ranked universities today, 87% of the Institutes are in THE’s top 50%. 15 IITs in addition to the Indian Institute of Science were ranked in 2020.
See Table 6 (in pdf) for several current rankings of Indian institutes. The Indian Institute of Science is ranked highest. It is clear that the low rankings are partly a function of their low international metrics. They also do not do well in rankings based on bibliometrics. Indian institutes should not be alone in calling THE out for the lack of transparency for how they calculate their pillars.
See Altbach and Jalote (2020) for background on India and world-class research universities.
Prior to the release of the 2021 World Rankings, THE released “The World’s best small universities.” To be eligible for this ranking, a university must be in THE’s 2020 world list of 1,397 universities, have under 5,000 students, and teach at least four subjects. 57 out of the 105 with under 500 students fit the criteria. Figure 1 below shows the distribution of the small universities by world rank. See Appendix A (in pdf) for options for identifying small universities and the Table of THE’s small universities ranked from 2 through 800.
Realistically, this should be labeled “Small universities from THE’s 2020 World rankings”.
Advantages of using THE include:
- A history of rankings back to 2004, with a methodology using the same metrics (see RESOURCES below)
- Rankings from 2011 until the present are available online
- The ability to rank universities by number of students, percent international students, and female: male ratio along with the scores from their five pillars
Disadvantages in using THE
- All of their world rankings are based on the same dataset
- The individual metrics that determine the pillar scores are not transparent
- 33% of rankings are based on reputation surveys. 50 universities have reputations scores in their Reputation Rankings
- Create an account for a few articles a month
- Most articles require a subscription
I need to highlight the importance of looking at scores, using more than one ranking, and focusing on what is important for you as a student, researcher, or administrator. It is also important to realize that adding more institutions from more countries is beneficial overall in recognizing higher education as a world industry. It may not be beneficial to individual institutions that are meeting their goals of supporting their stakeholders which might not emphasize the same metrics as the world rankings.
Before the end of the year, there are opportunities for more updates. THE Subject rankings will be released in October. We need to look at the new ranking from World Scientific Publishing, WURR. There should be rankings from U.S. News Global and NTU Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers and we have not yet explored changing presentations from U-Multirank and Scimago Institutions Rankings.
Ruth’s Rankings Background:
Ruth’s Rankings News Flash: QS and Times Higher Education Roll Out their 2016-2017 Rankings.
Ruth’s Rankings 5: Comparing Times Higher Education (THE) and QS Rankings
THE 2020 update in “Bogged down in rankings”
Ruth’s Rankings 22: Indian University Rankings – The Good, the Bad, and the Inconsistent
For rankings for all years (2004- ) for THE, QS, Shanghai( ARWU) and CWTS Leiden use University Rankings CH at https://www.universityrankings.ch/
Altbach, P.G., Jalote, P. When will India build world-class research universities? World University News, 26 September 2020.
Baker, S. (Sept. 2020). THE World University Rankings 2021: China closing in on the US, accessed at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/world-university-rankings-2021-china-closing-us
Bothwell. E. (Sept 2020). THE World University Rankings 2021: results announced, accessed at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/world-university-rankings-2021-results-announced
Gohain, M.P. (April 2020). ‘Not Transparent’: 7 IITs to boycott Times Higher Education Rankings. Times of India, accessed at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/not-transparent-7-iits-to-boycott-times-higher-education-ranking/articleshow/75190997.cms
Sharma, K. (June 2020). IITs Boycotting Times World Ranking Counterproductive for India: Times Higher Education. ThePrint, accessed at https://theprint.in/india/education/iits-boycotting-times-world-rankings-counterproductive-for-india-times-higher-education/451052/
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is Emeritus Faculty Librarian at Emory University, Atlanta, GA Author and speaker. 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, higher education and bibliometrics as well as contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674