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An education company in Britain, QS, annually publishes a report that ranks 400 top colleges and universities worldwide by thirty specific majors or courses of study. The latest report recently came out. No surprise: it ranks schools like Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge near the top in a range of subjects (English, law, medicine, political science). Technology giants like MIT and Stanford take top honors for computer science. Most of the top schools across subject areas are in the US and UK.

QS uses six indicators to rank the world’s top 400 schools on a 1 to 100 scale: academic reputation, student/faculty ration, citations per faculty, employer reputation, proportion of international faculty, and percentage of international students.

For the past five years, US News offered similar rankings across twenty-five subject areas in arts/humanities, engineering and technology, life sciences, natural sciences and social sciences. Based on the QS World University Rankings, its purpose is to “show how American universities compare with other institutions of higher learning.” The top institution overall in the US News rankings is MIT, with Cambridge ranked #2 and Harvard #3.

US schools made up 83 of the top 400 and six of the top ten: MIT, Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Princeton and Cal Tech. The other four top-ten spots went to schools in the UK: University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Oxford and Imperial College London. The highest-ranking university outside the US and UK was ETH Zurich (#13), which has a technology focus. The highest-ranking school in Canada was the University of Toronto (#19).

The University of Hong Kong (#23) was the highest-ranking school in Asia. Australia placed seven schools in the top 100 and one in the top 25 (Australian National University at #25), while China placed seven in the top 200. Surprisingly — to me at least — no Indian universities made the top 200.

Top schools in Latin America include Universidade de São Paulo and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. The highest-ranking university in Mexico was the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (#5 in Latin America).

These rankings are fascinating and informative in their own right, and provide a valuable source of comparative data for elite students worldwide who have the academic status and resources to compete for entrance to these institutions. The rankings are also a useful way for academics to monitor how their institutions and programs are faring in the highly competitive global education market.

But perhaps most importantly, global university rankings across subject areas help fill the vacuum of information about study abroad that a recent survey of UK and US students reported. According to the survey, less than 25% of students said they had enough information to make a choice about whether or where to study abroad. This concern was seen as a greater factor than language fluency or reluctance to move far from family and friends.

Cost, of course, is a barrier to many students who would otherwise welcome the chance to experience travel and education abroad. But apparently many students were not aware of financial aid for study abroad that they might have qualified for.

About 20% of UK students and 50% of US students said they were considering study abroad, either for a short stint or a full academic degree program. (Only about 9% of US college students actually study abroad.)

Do you think international subject rankings for universities make sense and are valid and trustworthy? If you advise students on college options, how frequently do you discuss overseas choices with your advisees?

Featured image courtesy of Tim Patterson.

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    I definitely feel that international subject rankings would be a good thing, so that there’s a uniform, standard scale of measurement. However, the validity and trustworthiness would be the major problem. I’m sure there would be solution to reduce these negatives, if not remove completely. It should be done to make it easier for students to make a choice.