New World Reputation Rankings Unleashed

By Watson Scott Swail, President & Senior Research Scholar, Educational Policy Institute

The UK-based Times Higher Education (THE) released their 2018 World Reputation Rankings today. This is a different ranking from THE’s World University Rankings, as the reputation piece focuses on an invitational-only survey of scholars from various universities around the world.

Harvard University is the number one school, so it was given a score of 100 from which every other institution is then placed in rank below that number. THE only ranked the first 50 due to the fact that the increments between institutions were simply so small that determining who was 59 versus 60 became pointless. Critics could argue that the entire endeavor is pointless, but it at least gives us an indicator of how scholars perceive the relative value of institutions. In some ways, this reputation piece is more interesting that the world rankings in the fall, as there is more to argue in how they determine non-reputation rankings. Here it is quite simple: the rankings are all about perceptions, for better and worse. And that is all they are.

With Harvard at the top looking down, we find that the top 10 is mostly an American listing, with Cambridge and Oxford clawing some respectability for the UK. Joining Harvard, in order, are MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Yale, UCLA, and University of Chicago. Knowing that “10s” are arbitrary at best, the next two on the list are also from the US: Cal Tech and Columbia University. US-based colleges account for 27 of the top 50 slots and 44 of the top 105. That last number may seem a bit odd, but 105 is the THE cut for the previously mentioned reason: it was difficult to cut at 100 when the next 5 institutions were at the same level as the 100th. So it makes sense, even if it messes with our conditioned framework of statistics a wee bit.

As we can see from the graphic below, only a few countries were able to make a meaningful strike in this reputation survey. The UK had the second most institutions in the top 105 with 9, followed by China and Germany (6), Japan and the Netherlands (5), France (4), Canada, Hong Kong, and South Korea (3), and 14 others to make up the list.

180530 Swail Letter

SOURCE: THE World Reputational Rankings. Graphic by EPI. 

In the end, what does all this information mean? Not much, to be fair. But it is interesting to see how the world perceives the best colleges in the world, and it isn’t much of a surprise that the US continues to wield significant notoriety in higher education. Without a full accounting, there is little doubt that the research funds that pour into the top 44 US institutions on this list likely account for the next 200 institutions put together. That is a very unofficial estimate, of course, but it is worth understanding how big the research emphasis is at these colleges. To give example, Johns Hopkins received almost $2 billion in funding from the federal government alone in 2017, and the University of Washington received $909 million. In total, 32 of the US institutions on this list had R&D budgets in excess of $28 billion in 2017. We were unable to find data from 12 additional US institutions on the list, but let us assume that if we did the aggregate would total somewhere between $35 and 40 billion in R&D funds. A startling amount of funds at the university level. Just as an aside, while the private institutions are very well known, 61 percent (or 27) of the US institutions in the rankings are publicly-controlled and account for over half the funding just described.

The funding, in large part, is a main part of the reputational piece of the rankings. Scholars from around the world publish and conduct research and read pieces by other scholars from these top institutions on a regular basis, thus their attitude is biased on the productivity of these universities in large part. The reputation is well earned and well paid for.

As time goes on, expect to see more international universities break this list, but it will take a long, long time. The efforts of the Saudis, Indians, Chinese, and others will take decades if not centuries of continued and large research investment to match what has been going on in the US for well over a century.

Ranking Institution Country
1 Harvard University USA
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology USA
3 Stanford University USA
4 University of Cambridge UK
5 University of Oxford UK
6 University of California, Berkeley USA
7 Princeton University USA
8 Yale University USA
9 University of California, Los Angeles USA
9 University of Chicago USA
11 California Institute of Technology USA
12 Columbia University USA
13 The University of Tokyo Japan
14 Tsinghua University China
15 University of Michigan USA
16 University of Pennsylvania USA
17 Peking University China
18 Cornell University USA
20 Imperial College London UK
21 Johns Hopkins University USA
22 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
22 University of Toronto Canada
24 National University of Singapore Singapore
25 London School of Economics and Political Science UK
26 New York University USA
27 Kyoto University Japan
28 University of Washington USA
29 Duke University USA
30 Carnegie Mellon University USA
31 University of California, San Diego USA
32 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USA
33 Lomonosov Moscow State University Russia
33 University of Wisconsin-Madison USA
35 University of Edinburgh UK
36 University of Texas at Austin USA
37 Northwestern University USA
38 University of British Columbia Canada
39 Paris Sciences & Lettres – PSL University France
40 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
41 McGill University Canada
42 King’s College London UK
43 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne France
44 University of California, San Francisco USA
44 Georgia Institute of Technology USA
46 Seoul National University South Korea
47 University of California, Davis USA
47 University of Melbourne Australia
49 LMU Munich Germany
50 Pennsylvania State University USA
51-60 Delft University of Technology Netherlands
51-60 KU Leuven Belgium
51-60 Heidelberg University Germany
51-60 University of Manchester UK
51-60 University of Minnesota USA
51-60 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
51-60 National Taiwan University Taiwan
51-60 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA
51-60 Purdue University USA
51-60 Sorbonne University France
61-70 University of Amsterdam Netherlands
61-70 Australian National University Australia
61-70 University of California, Santa Barbara USA
61-70 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
61-70 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
61-70 Karolinska Institute Sweden
61-70 Michigan State University USA
61-70 Ohio State University USA
61-70 University of Southern California USA
61-70 Technical University of Munich Germany
71-80 Brown University USA
71-80 Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
71-80 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
71-80 Leiden University Netherlands
71-80 University of Maryland, College Park USA
71-80 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
71-80 University of Sydney Australia
71-80 Texas A&M University USA
71-80 Tokyo Institute of Technology Japan
71-80 Zhejiang University China
81-90 Arizona State University USA
81-90 Free University of Berlin Germany
81-90 Fudan University China
81-90 Indiana University USA
81-90 Osaka University Japan
81-90 University of Science and Technology of China China
81-90 Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
81-90 Tohoku University Japan
81-90 Utrecht University Netherlands
81-90 University of Warwick UK
81-90 Washington University in St Louis USA
91-100 Boston University USA
91-100 University of Colorado Boulder USA
91-100 University of Copenhagen Denmark
91-100 École Polytechnique France
91-100 Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
91-100 University of Helsinki Finland
91-100 Indian Institute of Science India
91-100 Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Russia
91-100 University of Pittsburgh USA
91-100 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey USA
91-100 RWTH Aachen University Germany
91-100 Uppsala University Sweden
91-100 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
91-100 University of Zurich Switzerland

SOURCE: THE World University Rankings.



About Educational Policy Institute

The Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research think tank on education and the social sciences. EPI conducts evaluation and policy studies on various educational issues from Pre-K to workforce outcomes in the United States, Canada, and beyond. Visit us at
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