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U.S. once again king of the ranking jungle

The time of the year has come. Shanghai Jiao Tong University has published its much awaited Academic Ranking of World Universities 2013 (ARWU), presenting this year’s top 500 universities worldwide.   To nobody’s surprise, the lion’s share goes to the United States, with 17 universities in the top 20 and 149 in the top 500 (one fewer than last year). Harvard University continues to take the first position, followed by Stanford University (2nd) and the University of California, Berkeley (3rd), which jumped ahead of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (4th). Besides the United States, Great Britain and Switzerland also make it into the top 20, with Cambridge coming in 5th, Oxford 10th and ETH Zurich 20th, the latter being the first university in Continental Europe to ever enter the top 20 in the history of ARWU. With 75 institutions among the top 200, Europe scores well overall, although the distribution between countries remains quite unbalanced. In the Asia-Pacific region, which counts 30 institutions among the first-ranked 200, the University of Tokyo takes the crown (21st), followed by Kyoto University (26th) and the University of Melbourne (56th). Africa, with only four universities in the top 500 and none of them in the top 200, makes a sad ‘bottom of the barrel’. Although the rise of Asia in the ‘official top 200’ is not solely driven by China as many a man has feared, China does have the second largest number of universities in the overall top 500 (42, with seven of them in the top 200) ranking higher than Germany (38) and, surprisingly, the United Kingdom (37), which lost a place compared to 2012. Overall, the 2013 Shanghai ranking of universities holds only few surprises. Like many other rankings, ARWU links university scores to academic and research performances. This heavy reliance on research has earned it some serious criticism over the past, contributing to the present proliferation of global rankings wishing to ‘do things differently’ (e.g. U-Multirank, see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2013). But despite the on-going debate on the usefulness and accuracy of big international rankings, countries like Russia, China and Japan, to name only a few, are investing great amounts of money to increase their number of universities in the top 100.