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Global and US rankings: Times Higher Education out with both

Two recent scoreboards come out of the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings pool – the first edition of the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings and the well-established annual THE World University Ranking. The former examines more than 1,000 US colleges with the aim of informing students on their prospects regarding teaching resources, reputation, learning environment and post-graduation financial outlooks in terms of the load pay off and employment opportunities. The latter, which assesses universities’ performance vis-à-vis research, teaching, citations and international outlook, this year targets even more top universities in the world – 980 compared to 800 last year.

The newly launched WSJ/THE ranking’s stated uniqueness stems from a student-centred approach to assessing US colleges by way of examining what kind of student experience each institution offers. The ranking relies significantly on the THE’s annual US student survey, which covers around 100,000 students, and it uses 15 performance indicators, based on four main pillars of different weights – resources (30%), outcomes (40%), environment (10%) and engagement (20%). The usual suspects lead the board with Stanford as number one followed by MIT and Columbia, Penn and Yale. However, the score changes by individual pillars, most visibly so in engagement and environment, to the advantage of smaller liberal arts colleges, with fewer resources but where teaching and teacher-student interaction come to the fore.

And the biggest news in this year’s edition of the THE World University Ranking is - Oxford’s rise to the top of the league table. For the first time since the launch of this ranking, the California Institute of Technology is not at the forefront. This year, it slipped to number two, just below Oxford. Berkley is also down, for 3 places this year, whereas the rest of the top 10 achievers remain in their positions.

Oxford’s lead position does not change, however, the overall trends in the ranking’s charts. The US still has the largest number of universities (63) among the top 200. Asia keeps its progress both in ranks and numbers. This year, the continent has 19 universities among top 200, which is four more than last year. Although it may not be topping the scoreboard yet, the total number of represented universities making gains into the ranking is remarkable, standing at 289 this year. In addition to Swiss ETH Zurich, which remains its 9th position of last year, Europe’s leading universities still come mainly from the UK, Germany and The Netherlands. The UK is represented by 32 universities in top 200, Germany by 22 while the Dutch claim 13 spots this year.

Looking at the two – seemingly different rankings – with somewhat different target audiences and methodologies, one can still see that the overall order does not change drastically for US universities. The usual suspects seem to be the usual suspects in most rankings as the measured values are valued by the virtue of being measurable. Or, are we seeing changes in thinking?

THE World University Ranking- press release Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings