The QS World University Rankings are annual university rankings published by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) which provides overall rankings as well as ranking for individual subjects. QS also publishes additional regional rankings, the QS Asian University Rankings and the QS Latin American University Rankings, both of which are independent of and different to the major world rankings due to differences in the criteria and weightings used to generate them.[1]

The publisher originally released its rankings in publication with Times Higher Education from 2004 to 2009 as the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, but the two ended their collaboration in 2010. QS assumed sole publication of the pre-existing methodology, while Times Higher Education created a new one with Thomson Reuters, published as Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The QS World University Rankings is regarded as one of the three most influential and widely observed international university rankings, along with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities.[2][3][4]


The need for an international ranking of universities was highlighted in December 2003 in Richard Lambert’s review of university-industry collaboration in Britain[5] for HM Treasury, the finance ministry of the United Kingdom. Amongst its recommendations were world university rankings, which Lambert said would help the UK to gauge the global standing of its universities.

The idea for the rankings was credited in Ben Wildavsky's book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World,[6] to then-editor of Times Higher Education (THE), John O'Leary. THE chose to partner with educational and careers advice company Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) to supply the data, appointing Martin Ince,[7] formerly deputy editor and later a contractor to THE, to manage the project.

Between 2004 and 2009, QS produced the rankings in partnership with THE. In 2009, THE announced they would produce their own rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, in partnership with Thomson Reuters. THE cited a weakness in the methodology of the original rankings,[8] as well as a perceived favoritism in the existing methodology for science over the humanities,[9] as one of the key reasons for the decision to split with QS.

QS retained the intellectual property in the Rankings and the methodology used to compile them [citation needed] and continues to produce the rankings, now called the QS World University Rankings.[10] THE created a new methodology with Thomson Reuters, published as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in September 2010.

Methodology of the major rankingsEdit

QS publishes the rankings results in key media around the world, including US News & World Report in the United States and Chosun Ilbo in Korea. The first rankings produced by QS independently of THE, and using QS's consistent and original methodology, were released on September 8, 2010, with the second appearing on September 6, 2011.

QS tried to design its rankings to look at a broad range of university activity.

Academic peer review (40%)Edit

The most controversial part of the QS World University Rankings is their use of an opinion survey referred to as the Academic Peer Review. Using a combination of purchased mailing lists and applications and suggestions, this survey asks active academicians across the world about the top universities in fields they know about. QS has published the job titles and geographical distribution of the participants.

The 2011 rankings made use of responses from 33,744 people from over 140 nations in its Academic Peer Review, including votes from the previous two years rolled forward provided there was no more recent information available from the same individual. Participants can nominate up to 30 universities but are not able to vote for their own. They tend to nominate a median of about 20, which means that this survey includes over 500,000 data points. More here.[11]

In 2004, when the rankings first appeared, academic peer review accounted for half of a university's possible score. In 2005, its share was cut to 40 per cent because of the introduction of the Recruiter Review.

Faculty student ratio (20%)Edit

This indicator accounts for 20 per cent of a university’s possible score in the rankings. It is a classic measure used in various ranking systems as a surrogate for teaching commitment, but QS has admitted that it is less than satisfactory. More on the QS website here.[12]

Citations per faculty (20%)Edit

Citations of published research are among the most widely used inputs to national and global university rankings. The QS World University Rankings used citations data from Thomson (now Thomson Reuters) from 2004 to 2007, and since then uses data from Scopus, part of Elsevier. The total number of citations for a five-year period is divided by the number of academicians in a university to yield the score for this measure, which accounts for 20 per cent of a university’s possible score in the Rankings.

QS has explained that it uses this approach, rather than the citations per paper preferred for other systems, because it reduces the effect of biomedical science on the overall picture – bio-medicine has a ferocious “publish or perish” culture. Instead QS attempts to measure the density of research-active staff at each institution. But issues still remain about the use of citations in ranking systems, especially the fact that the arts and humanities generate comparatively few citations. More here.[13]

QS has conceded the presence of some data collection errors regarding citations per faculty in previous years' rankings.[14]

One interesting issue is the difference between the Scopus and Thomson Reuters databases. For major world universities, the two systems capture more or less the same publications and citations. For less mainstream institutions, Scopus has more non-English language and smaller-circulation journals in its database. But as the papers there are less heavily cited, this can also mean fewer citations per paper for the universities that publish in them. More on this at [13] This area has been criticized for undermining universities which do not use English as their primary language.[15] Citations and publications in a language different from English are harder to come across. The English language is the most internationalized language and therefore the most popular when citing.

Recruiter review (10%)Edit

This part of the ranking is obtained by a similar method to the Academic Peer Review, except that it samples recruiters who hire graduates on a global or significant national scale. The numbers are smaller – 16,875 responses from over 130 countries in the 2011 Rankings – and are used to produce 10 per cent of any university’s possible score. This survey was introduced in 2005 in the belief that employers track graduate quality, making this a barometer of teaching quality, a famously problematic thing to measure. University standing here is of especial interest to potential students.

More here.[16]

International orientation (10%)Edit

The final ten per cent of a university’s possible score is derived from measures intended to capture their internationalism: five percent from their percentage of international students, and another five percent from their percentage of international staff. This is of interest partly because it shows whether a university is putting effort into being global, but also because it tells us whether it is taken seriously enough by students and academics around the world for them to want to be there. More at.[17]

Data sourcesEdit

The information used to compile the World University Ranking comes partly from the online surveys carried out by QS, partly from Scopus, and partly from an annual information-gathering exercise carried out by QS itself. QS collects data from universities directly, from their web sites and publications, and from national bodies such as education ministries and the National Center for Education Statistics in the US and the Higher Education Statistics Agency in the UK.


The data are aggregated into columns according to its Z score, an indicator of how far removed any institution is from the average. Between 2004 and 2007 a different system was used whereby the top university for any measure was scaled as 100 and the others received a score reflecting their comparative performance. According to QS, this method was dropped because it gives too much weight to some exceptional outliers, such as the very high faculty/student ratio of the California Institute of Technology. In 2006, the last year before the Z score system was introduced, Caltech was top of the citations per faculty score, receiving 100 on this indicator, because of its highly research and science-oriented approach. The next two institutions on this measure, Harvard and Stanford, each scored 55. In other words, 45 per cent of the possible difference between all the world's universities was between the top university and the next one (in fact two) on the list, leaving every other university on Earth to fight over the remaining 55 per cent.

Likewise in 2005, Harvard was top university and MIT was second with 86.9, so that 13 per cent of the total difference between all the world's universities was between first and second place. In 2011, the University of Cambridge was top and the second institution, Harvard, got 99.34. So the Z score system allows the full range of available difference to be used in a more informative way.


In 2009, a column of classifications was introduced to provide additional context to the rankings tables. Universities are classified by size, defined by the size of the student body; comprehensive or specialist status, defined by the range of faculty areas in which programs are offered; and research activity, defined by the number of papers published in a five-year period.


In 2011, QS began publishing average fees data for the universities it ranks. These are not used as an indicator in the rankings, but are clearly of immense interest and reveal much about a university's self-image and market position.

QS publishes domestic and international fees for undergraduate and postgraduate study.

Faculty-level analysisEdit

QS publishes a simple analysis of the top 400 institutions in each of the five faculty-level areas mentioned above: natural sciences, technology, biology and medicine, social sciences and the arts and humanities. These five tables list universities in order of their Academic Peer Review score. They also give the citations per paper for each institution, but the two data sets are not aggregated.

QS uses citations per paper rather than per person partly because it does not hold details of the academic staff in each subject area, and partly because the number of citations per paper should be a consistent indicator of impact within a specific field with a defined publishing culture.

Their ranking of psychology departments in 2013[2] QS publishes a ranking of just over 700 of the top universities around the world, the first 50 of which are listed below:

QS World University Psychology Rankings — Top 50
1Harvard University
2University of Oxford
3University of Cambridge
4=Stanford University
4=University of California, Los Angeles
6University College London
7University of Melbourne
8Yale University
9University of Queensland
10University of New South Wales
11University of California, Berkeley
12Princeton University
13University of Michigan
14University of Sydney
15University of Otago
16University of Amsterdam
17Columbia University
18University of Hong Kong
19McGill University
20London School of Economics and Political Science
21University of Chicago
22=University of Auckland
22=University of Toronto
24University of British Columbia
25University of Pennsylvania
26New York University
27Monash University
28National University of Singapore
29Chinese University of Hong Kong
30Australian National University
31University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
32=King's College London
32=University of Manchester
32=University of Western Australia
35University of Edinburgh
36Duke University
37Maastricht University
38Nanyang Technological University
39University of Tokyo
40=Northwestern University
40=University of Texas at Austin
40=Utrecht University
43University of Bristol
44University of Ghent
45Macquarie University
46University Amsterdam
47Peking University
48Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
49=Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
49=Victoria University of Wellington


  1. Asian University Rankings - QS Asian University Rankings vs. QS World University Rankings™.
  2. Ariel Zirulnick. New world university ranking puts Harvard back on top. The Christian Science Monitor.
  3. We're fighting above our weight when it comes to uni rankings. The Australian.
  4. includeonly>Indira Samarasekera and Carl Amrhein. "Top schools don't always get top marks", 'The Edmonton Journal'.
  5. Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration
  6. Princeton University Press, 2010
  7. Martin Ince Communications
  8. Mroz, Ann Leader: Only the best for the best. Times Higher Education. URL accessed on 2010-09-16.
  9. Baty, Phil Views: Ranking Confession. Inside Higher Ed. URL accessed on 2010-09-16.
  10. Labi, Aisha (2010-09-15). Times Higher Education Releases New Rankings, but Will They Appease Skeptics?. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  11. [1][dead link]
  12. QS Intelligence Unit | Faculty Student Ratio. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  13. 13.0 13.1 QS Intelligence Unit | Citations per Faculty. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  14. University Ranking Watch
  15. "Global university rankings and their impact,". "European University Association". Retrieved 3, September, 2012
  16. QS Intelligence Unit | Employer Reputation. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  17. QS Intelligence Unit | International Indicators. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.

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