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.
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.
SOURCE: THE World University Rankings.
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