Tech institutions take the lead

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The increased global emphasis on high-impact scientific and technological research is on display in this year’s QS World University Rankings, which are dominated by institutions specialising in the STEM disciplines.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cements its place at the top of the table, ranking first for the third consecutive year. And fellow STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) institution Imperial College London is the biggest climber in the top 10, leapfrogging Harvard, UCL and Oxford to rank second in the world, tied with University of Cambridge.

With budgets from both public and private institutions coming under strain as the global economy attempts to bounce back from the recession, many comprehensive institutions have increasingly struggled to balance research excellence with small class sizes and comprehensive internationalization.The rankings suggest that STEM-focused institutions such as MIT, Imperial and Caltech are currently perfecting this formula. Harvard University was the undisputed number one in the early years of the QS World University Rankings, topping the table every year from 20042011. Yet its dominance has been on the wane in recent years, and this year it slips to 4th. Local rival MIT retains the global top spot and in doing so underlines its status as the current number one university in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

MIT and Harvard both record maximum scores for academic and employer reputation, as well as research citations. The factors that tip the balance in MIT’s favour are its superior student-to-faculty ratio and more internationally diverse student and faculty makeup.

The basis for Imperial College’s eye-catching rise from fifth to second is its all-round consistency across the range of indicators. Imperial is the only institution that ranks within the global top 50 in each of the six measured criteria. This is testament to its success in marrying a strong research profile and international reputation with an excellent student-to-faculty ratio and highly international character. US institution Caltech moves up two places to 8th and is the world’s top university for research citations. Switzerland’s ETH Zurich (12th) and EPFL Lausanne (17th) both feature prominently, meaning specialist STEM institutions now account for a quarter of the world’s top 20 universities.

Other STEM-focused institutions that have improved their performance this year include France’s Ecole Polytechnique ParisTech, up 6 places to 35th, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which achieves its highest ever ranking of 39th, and Korea’s KAIST, which is up 9 places to 51st.KAIST’s improvement comes af ter it ranked 2nd in this year’s QS University Rankings: Asia, and continues an upward trajectory that has seen it rise from outside of the top 100 in 2007 to its present position on the cusp of the global top 50.

In the US, the highest-ranked public institution is University of Michigan at 23rd globally and 12th nationally. UC Berkeley drops to 27th and along with UCLA (37th) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (41st) there are just four US public universities in the top 50 this compares to 14 private institutions.A total of 31 countries are represented in the QS global top 200. As usual, the US is the dominant nation with 51 institutions ahead of the UK (29), Germany (13), the Netherlands (11), Canada (10), Japan (10) and Australia (8).

The highest profile omission is India, which still has no institution in the global top 200.France has just four institutions in the top 200, placing it behind not only Germany and the Netherlands, but also smaller Eurozone neighbours Switzerland, (7), Belgium (5) and Sweden (5). Nonetheless, France’s top two institutions have both improved their performance this year with Ecole Normale Superieure Paris moving up four places to 24th, ahead of Ecole Polytechnique Paristech at 35th. Lomonosov Moscow State University (114th) remains the only Russian university in the Top 200.

National University of Singapore (22nd) has cemented its current position as Asia’s top institution, opening up a sixplace lead over University of Hong Kong (28th), which it overtook for the first time last year. After a couple of years in which Australian institutions have been feeling the effects of increased international competition, their performance has largely stabilized this year. University of Adelaide’s four place gain means that for the first time since 2011 the nation’s elite Group of Eight institutions all feature in the global top 100 a performance bettered by only the US and the UK. Australia National University is up two places to 25th, pulling away from University of Melbourne, which drops two places to 33rd.

Canada’s top institution, University of Toronto, drops three places to 20th, but still retains a slender lead over McGill University, which is one place behind in 21st, the same position it occupied last year.


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