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Every year a new class of college applicants from all over the world chooses from among 1000s of universities to hang their ambitions. Several respected agencies publish regular ratings for some of the best universities in the world, including QS, the Academic Rating of World Universities, the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News, to establish guidelines for student choice and to systematize the information available about institutions of higher education.

  • Annual rankings from the likes of QS evaluate universities based on a relatively standard set of factors but vary the underlying criteria and importance placed on each factor and sometimes introduce unique indicators that mean the difference between MIT being ranked number 1 by QS and number 5 by THE.
  • THE introduces measures for the quality of teaching and research and the level of dissemination of knowledge and innovation while U.S. News delves into the reputation of universities' research and academics. The Shanghai rating is somewhat specialized, with a focus on the scientific and academic activities of universities in an aim to reduce the impact of the characteristics of national education systems on its final assessment. In contrast, the QS rating examines the reputation of universities within the academic environment.

While university ratings may create decision frameworks for potential students and employers, data shows that certain factors may be more meaningful in practice, only some of which are captured by ratings agencies.

  • The greatest draw for foreign students is the variety of programs offered by a university, ranging from specialty sciences, such as nuclear physics, to narrow fields of creative arts, including filmmaking.
  • The reputation of universities and the comprehensive nature of the training programs offered are also highly valued by students and employers and the ratings seek to provide unique measures of these attributes.
  • Learn more about each ranking: Academic Rating of World Universitiesthe Center for World University Rankings (CWUR); Times Higher Education (THE); U.S. News.

In today’s Viz, we highlight the QS rating. This ranking introduces a student-to-faculty ratio, which is one of the most effective proxy metrics for teaching quality because of the reduced burden, on average, on the university’s academics. The QS criteria are as follow:

  • Academic reputation (40%) - Academic experts’ opinions on the educational process in the university
  • Employer reputation (10%) - Employers’ opinions on graduates and the quality of education
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%) - Universities with the smallest groups and individual teachers
  • Citations per faculty (20%) - Influence of the university on the field of scientific research
  • International faculty ratio (5%) - The best conditions for foreign teachers
  • International student ratio (5%) - The best conditions for foreign students
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