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Leiden ranking 2014 – improved methodology in favour of smaller universities

On 30 April the results of the Leiden Ranking 2014 were published, displaying an enlarged list of 750 universities with the largest contribution in international scientific journals in the period of 2009–2012, and using the ‘cleaned’ data from the Web of Science bibliographic database produced by Thomson Reuters. 

This year’s number one is a newcomer on the list – the Rockefeller University. Although much smaller in absolute numbers compared to MIT, Harvard and other top-scoring universities, the Rockefeller University has the highest number of citations relative to the total number of publications it produced. It is followed by MIT in the second place, Harvard in the third, Berkeley and Stanford in the fourth and fifth, respectively. Among the top 25 only 6 places belong to non-US universities – the Oxbridge couple and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from the UK, two universities from Switzerland: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and ETH Zürich, and the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Science. All score quite low on the list: Cambrige is the 19th, while the rest of them take up the last five places among the top 25 clique. 

Out of the 750 universities from 49 countries in the Leiden list, the US is the leader with 166 universities. The second largest country representation comes from China, with 83 universities. Europe as a whole contributes with 288 universities with Germany, the UK and Italy as the top three most represented countries with respectively 47, 45 and 33 universities in the list. Russia is represented by one university only – the Lomonosov Moscow State University. 

The sophisticated – and complex - methodology used for this ranking requires careful interpretation to avoid any injustice to the universities on the list. First of all, it focuses on citation impact and scientific collaboration of universities, and concerns only articles and reviews in core journals - in English only. Such an Anglophone-biased methodology eliminates a high number of publications in other widely spoken languages and puts many active universities in an undeserved disadvantage. Second, it deals with the percentage of frequently cited publications, not with absolute numbers. Thus, if the number one university – Rockefeller – was ranked against absolute numbers of citations, it would end somewhere around 300 on the list. In absolute terms, Harvard is the winner with more than twice as many citations as the number two – Stanford. Equally, citation impact does not coincide with scientific impact due to the frequent practice of scientists to cite one another for not always justifiable reasons. 

Apart from the overall results, the Leiden ranking also provides statistics by the following seven broad disciplines:

  • Cognitive and health sciences
  • Earth and environmental sciences
  • Life sciences
  • Mathematics, computer science, and engineering
  • Medical sciences
  • Natural sciences
  • Social sciences
Leiden Ranking 2014