Rankings of Universities. What do they evaluate and what is its importance?

It can be difficult to assess the quality of a university and it is quite comfortable to look only at the rankings; however, a number of factors must be taken into account to determine how important the leaderboard can be to students. Therefore, here we explain what is measured in the most famous rankings.

How does an institution reach a high position in the university rankings?

What factors do they actually measure? Well that depends entirely on the college rankings you are looking at. And it is that, each system or classification table uses a different method to define what makes a good university. The criteria used to compile university rankings may not be of any real importance to you as an individual .


University rankings place them in tables to allow easy comparison. However, each ranking organization measures institutions in different ways, using different criteria, and even using adjusted assessment factors of similar criteria .

University rankings can take into account aspects such as:

  • research quality
  • staff-student ratio
  • international perspective
  • student satisfaction
  • graduation prospects
  • opinions of staff and academics
  • spending per student
  • some count the number of nobel prizes
  • basic factors such as accommodation costs

Points to consider when consulting a ranking

So, before looking at the rankings for a specific university and the criteria used, here are a few more points to keep in mind:

  • Universities can be excluded from world university rankings if they do not teach undergraduate students. Institutions that only teach programs for graduate students will not appear, even if they are among the best.
  • They are also left out if they do not publish a large number of research articles.
  • Another reason for exclusion is if they only teach a single limited subject area, which can be frustrating if that’s what you want to study.

The three best rankings of international universities

There are three highly recognized and internationally respected university rankings: the QS World University Rankings, the World University Academic Ranking, and the Time Higher Education World University Rankings.

World university ranking – QS

The QS world university ranking is published annually in September by the British company Quacquarelli Symonds. Created in 2004, it rates thousands of colleges and awards individual positions to the top 400. After this, the colleges are placed in a group, starting from 401-410 to 710+.

Universities are compared in four areas of interest – research, teaching, employability and international perspective. Each area of ​​interest is valued in turn against six indicators:

  • Academic reputation (40%) – global survey of more than 70,000 academics
  • Mentions by faculty (20%)
  • Student to Faculty Ratio (20%)
  • Employer Reputation (10%) – Global survey of more than 37,000 graduate employers.
  • International proportion of faculty (5%)
  • International proportion of students (5%)

QS also publishes university rankings for institutions under 50 by subject, faculty, and region.

ARWU World Ranking (formerly Shanghai Jiao Tong Index)

The academic ranking of the world’s universities (formerly known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong index) assesses the performance of universities leaning more towards the indicators of prestige in research. ARWU assesses more than 1,200 universities each year, and publishes rankings of universities with the top 500.

Thirty percent of your score is based on the number of awardees who are students or hired on staff even though some were awarded decades after the research was conducted.

Another twenty percent is based on having highly-mentioned researchers among employees, which typically means being consistently mentioned in the top one percent in your field. Consequently, an institution that employs highly recognized researchers, predominantly in the fields of science and engineering, has a greater chance of achieving a high position in the rankings of research-focused universities.

ARWU uses six indicators to rate the world’s universities, including:

  • Number of Nobel Prize Winners and Medals in their field (10%)
  • Number of nobel prize and medal winning employees in their field (20%)
  • Number of highly mentioned researchers in 21 general thematic categories (20%)
  • Number of articles published in Nature and Science (20%)
  • Number of articles indicated in the Index of Citations in Sciences – Index of Citations of Expanded and Social Sciences (20%)
  • Academic results per capitaof an institution (10%)

You may also be interested in: Will you study a career or graduate degree online? How to know if an online university is accredited 

World Rankings – Times Higher Education (THE)

The Times Higher Education University Rankings provide a comprehensive list of the top universities around the world. This influential ranking of universities presents itself as “the only table of results of international universities that assesses them in all their essential functions – teaching, research, transmission of knowledge and international perspective”.

Given its unique nature and fitness for purpose, it is one of the college rankings that tends to attract a lot of attention from potential students. The Times Higher Education considers thirteen “carefully calibrated” performance indicators to judge world-class universities on all of their key objectives, including teaching and research, using rigorous global standards. As a consequence, it is considered to provide unbiased comparisons.

The performance indicators are grouped into five areas:

    • Teaching (30%)
    • Research (30%)
    • Research mentions (30%)
    • International perspective (7.5%)
    • Benefits in the business sector (2.5%)

Are important?

So, having looked at some of the most prevalent university rankings, the next question is: are they important? Well, that is up to you as an individual. Your preferences may be represented in the ranking table; however, apart from the importance that you give to the criteria used, you also have to be realistic about your academic profile.


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