One of the most popular rankings of global institutions that soon-to-be international students check out annually is World University Rankings by Times Higher Education (THE).
While there’s no denying that it’s sought-after during the college application season, is THE something you should use as a guide when building a college list?
Times Higher Education is reliable in that it has a solid methodology, which consists of various performance indicators. Among those, factors related to teaching, research and citations have the most weight. However, critics agree that THE has a penchant for English-speaking and hard science-focused schools.
Throughout its history, THE has been acquired and managed by different companies. Its current owner, which is Inflexion Private Equity, purchased it from TPG Capital in 2005 for £205 million.
From 2004 to 2009, Times Higher Education had a partnership with QS World University Ranking in dishing out global college rankings every year.
However, they decided to part ways — THE turned to Thomson Reuters in coming up with a new methodology, leaving what it originally used during the joint venture at the disposal of QS.
THE eventually signed a contract with Elsevier, serving as its source of data necessary for its new methodology.
Although the college ranker is popularly known for its annual World University Rankings, THE also comes up with the Best Universities in the United States ranking.
The top 5 institutions on its 2023 ranking are Harvard University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology and Princeton University.
Then there’s also the Global University Employability Ranking, which ranks some of the planet’s best schools for graduate jobs. The top-notcher for its 2023 listing is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Producing unique rankings is one of the things that make Times Higher Education a standout.
For instance, it has the so-called Impact Rankings, which evaluates global colleges and universities against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. Indicators used by THE in ranking institutions according to impact are research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.
Impact Rankings 2022, which is the 4th edition, is led by Western Sydney University in Australia. It’s followed by Arizona State University in the US and then by Western University in Canada.
Some other distinctive rankings Times Higher Education also produces include World Reputation Rankings, Young University Rankings and Emerging Economies University Rankings.
Similarly, THE ranks institutions based on subjects as well as according to regions on the planet where they are located.
How Does Times Higher Education Rank Colleges?
As mentioned earlier, when THE parted ways with QS World University Ranking, it employed a new methodology for ranking colleges and universities, leaving the old one behind.
Currently, it’s being used by QS World University Ranking.
Let’s take a look at the 5 main categories Times Higher Education use in ranking academic institutions and the different performance indicators under each of them:
Of course, when on the hunt for some of the best colleges and universities to attend, degree-seeking students want to make sure that they will have the best learning environment possible.
And it’s because of this exactly why THE gives the ranking factor teaching a 30% weight.
This particular factor is made up 5 indicators, namely:
- Reputation survey (15%)
- Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio (6%)
- Staff-to-student ratio (4.5%)
- Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio (2.25%)
- Institutional income (2.25%)
The indicator with the biggest weighting, which is reputation survey, involves Times Higher Education obtaining the opinions of scholars. Mainly, the invited respondents are senior, published academics — they are asked by THE to specify a maximum of 15 colleges and universities that they believe are the best in the field of teaching.
Conducted annually, the surveying portion runs for an entire year, yielding more than 20,000 responses.
Also taken into account by THE when scoring an institution based on the teaching category is the ratio of doctorate degrees to bachelor’s degrees conferred.
According to the college ranking site, this is an important indicator as high-level teaching tends to attract more undergraduate students to pursue a graduate degree afterward. THE is careful to consider the fact that the number of doctoral awards conferred can vary according to discipline.
Meanwhile, a low staff-to-student ratio reflects the availability of teachers to take care of students.
With a weight of 30%, it goes without saying that the category research is a critical measure in THE’s ranking process of institutions of higher education. And as one would expect, excellence in the field of research gives institutions with high research activity an edge on Times Higher Education’s annual rankings.
The said factor consists of 3 indicators, and they are the following:
- Reputation survey (18%)
- Research income (6%)
- Research productivity (6%)
Reputation survey, which has the most weighting among all indicators under the research category, is conducted by THE by obtaining the opinions of scholars about who among peer institutions shines the best in research.
On the other hand, the indicator research income is measured against the number of academic staff and adjusted, too, for purchasing-power parity (PPP).
Simply put, PPP is an economic theory that makes it possible to compare the purchasing power of various world currencies to one another.
THE admits that the inclusion of PPP in determining a school’s research income score is controversial.
It’s because it can be influenced by a handful of things, including economic policies and circumstances. However, the college ranker argues that income is vital to the development of world-class research.
When it comes to determining research productivity, Times Higher Education turns to Scopus, which is the abstract and citation database of Elsevier.
THE counts the number of published academic journals indexed by Scopus. For accuracy, THE scales the figures for institutional size as well as normalizes for the subject.
Just like what the name implies, the ranking factor citations involves Times Higher Education looking at the average number of times the published work of an academic institution is cited by scholars from various parts of the planet.
So, in other words, it’s all about the role of the school in disseminating new knowledge and ideas.
Having a weight of 30%, THE says that citations allows it to determine just how much an institution of higher education being ranked is contributing to the summation of human knowledge.
The college ranking site not only looks into stand-out research but also the frequency of it being picked up and built by scholars and shared with the world.
Similar to the indicator research productivity, which is under the ranking category research, THE relies on Scopus in scoring citations. Various matters are taken into account, including:
- Journal articles
- Article reviews
- Conference proceedings
- Book chapters
It’s common knowledge among college rankers that certain subjects have a penchant for obtaining more attention and thereby research activity. In order to attain fairness in the ranking process, Times Higher Education normalizes data obtained in a manner that schools with high research activity in certain subjects do not enjoy an unfair edge.
When it comes to ranking global colleges and universities, needless to say, the ability to attract students from all over the globe is a matter of utmost consideration.
The presence of international students on campus benefits institutions, particularly those who are looking to have international engagement, as well as the attendees themselves.
Having international students around makes the campus more diverse — the learning experience can become more productive and dynamic, and the students can be groomed for global careers.
THE says that the ability to attract students and faculty from across the planet is vital to reaping global stage success.
Because of this, it takes into account 3 indicators when scoring schools according to the category international outlook, which has a 7.5% weighting. And factors under the said category are:
- Proportion of international students (2.5%)
- Proportion of international staff (2.5%)
- International collaboration (2.5%)
Indicators such as the proportion of international students to domestic students and the proportion of international staff to domestic staff pretty much speak for themselves in terms of the roles they play in the ranking process.
On the other hand, international collaboration is measured by calculating the proportion of the total relevant publications an institution has with at least 1 international co-author.
THE adjusts data, which are obtained over a 5-year period, accordingly in an attempt to avoid subject-mediated biases.
Times Higher Education ranks global institutions of higher education by considering their ability to help industries from the 4 corners of the globe with consultancy, innovations and inventions, too.
And that is why the college ranker scores colleges and universities based on knowledge transfer.
Referred to as the industry income factor, the said indicator has a 2.5% weighting in the ranking process.
In a nutshell, it aims to determine how much money a learning institution makes from its research activity, which is adjusted for PPP as well as scaled against the number of academic staff employed.
By attracting businesses and organizations to pay for research, according to THE, The ranking of global schools based on institutional quality can be facilitated.
Times Higher Education vs. US News: What’s the Difference?
Both Times Higher Education and US News consider a total of 13 factors when ranking global colleges and universities. While THE’s factors can be grouped into 5 categories, those of US News can be loosely grouped into 3 categories. Both college rankers put a lot of emphasis on research and citations.
The table below demonstrates the different college ranking factors used by Times Higher Education and US News, condensed into groups for conciseness as well as the weight of each:
|RANKING FACTORS||Times Higher Education||US NEWS|
Looking at the numbers alone, it’s apparent what the 2 popular college ranking sites find the most important when scoring international schools — both deem research and citations as some of the most critical.
Of course, seeing the methodologies used by THE and US News in action can make them more meaningful.
And that is why you will come across below their most recent rankings of colleges and universities from various parts of the planet: THE’s World University Rankings 2023 and US News’ the Best Global Universities 2022 to 2023.
However, I will give you only the top 20 institutions for each ranking to keep things short.
|UNIVERSITY RANKING||WORLD UNIVERSITY RANKINGS, THE||BEST GLOBAL UNIVERSITIES, US NEWS|
|#1||University of Oxford||Harvard University|
|#2||Harvard University||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|#3||University of Cambridge||Stanford University|
|#4||Stanford University||University of California, Berkeley|
|#5||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||University of Oxford|
|#6||California Institute of Technology||University of Washington, Seattle|
|#7||Princeton University||Columbia University|
|#8||University of California, Berkeley||University of Cambridge|
|#9||Yale University||California Institute of Technology|
|#10||Imperial College London||Johns Hopkins University|
|#11||Columbia University||Yale University|
|#12||ETH Zurich||University College London|
|#13||University of Chicago||Imperial College London|
|#14||University of Pennsylvania||University of California Los Angeles|
|#15||Johns Hopkins University||University of Pennsylvania|
|#16||Tsinghua University||Princeton University|
|#17||Peking University||University of California San Francisco|
|#18||University of Toronto||University of Toronto|
|#19||National University of Singapore||University of Michigan|
|#20||Cornell University||University of California, San Diego|
With different methodologies consisting of an assortment of indicators with varying weights, it isn’t surprising that global schools tend to jump from place to place on both rankings.
However, it seems like THE and US News completely or somewhat mutually agree with the rankings of certain schools.
The University of Toronto, for instance, is #18 in both World University Rankings and Best Global Universities.
The rankings of Ivy League schools Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, are different by just a slot on both international rankings.
Should You Use Times Higher Education?
Before we discuss anything else, let’s get this matter straight: college ranking sites are reliable if the methodologies they employ and the data they use alone are taken into account.
It’s important to note, too, that they are not at all impervious to contamination.
Regardless of how well-thought-of and calculated the method by which rankings are obtained, the result remains vulnerable to outside influence through consideration of the opinions provided by surveyed individuals, such as school administrators, teachers and students, as well as pieces of information obtained from third-party sources.
The institutions being ranked themselves can take certain steps in order to sway the findings of college rankers toward their favor — they care about rankings because it’s good for the image.
In many instances, the more selective a college is, the higher the ranking. Schools know this for a fact, which is why a lot of schools deliberately lower their acceptance rates by putting as many applicants as possible on the waitlist.
Besides giving them attention-grabbing low acceptance rates, this stratagem also increases their yield rate.
Needless to say, it’s a win-win situation for institutions that want nothing short of a high ranking.
Having a test-optional policy can also work to their advantage — because applicants with high SAT or ACT scores are only those who tend to report standardized test scores, the school appears as though it attracts only the brightest.
Removing these things from the equation, nonetheless, makes the methodology used by Times Higher Education reliable.
Especially with ranking factors such as teaching and research having the most weight (30% each) and international outlook (7.5%) taken into account, it makes for a sound ranking of global institutions.
Still, some critics question THE’s college ranking approach.
Citations, as discussed earlier, is a ranking factor used with a 30% weight.
As a result of this, colleges and universities that do not use English as their primary language may be disadvantaged in the process — the vast majority of international academic societies and journals cite publications written in English.
Another ranking factor THE uses, which is research with the same weight as citations, can also work to the disadvantage of schools that focus on social sciences and humanities, the kinds that do not receive as much research activity as hard sciences like mathematics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology and physics.
Just Before You Shortlist Colleges Guided by THE’s Ranking
Although it ranks US colleges, too, Times Higher Education is more popular for its annual rankings of global institutions for higher education. Needless to say, it caters to college list-building students who plan on earning their undergraduate degrees from world-class schools abroad.
But just like any other college ranking out there, you should use the rankings of THE not as a template but as a guide in learning more about the colleges you wish to apply to as well as comparing similar ones with each other.
- US News Ranking vs. QS Ranking
- US News vs. Forbes
- 14 Alternatives to US News Rankings
- Washington Monthly vs. US News
- Niche vs. US News
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.