Why US Universities dominate the Global University Rankings
Updated on Jan 6, 2015 - 5:34 p.m. IST by Sudipta Mishra #United States of America
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With more than half of the universities in the Top 10 and more than one-third of the universities in the Top 200 being from the United States, the Global University Ranking Leagues are yet again ruled by the US universities. Although more than 85 countries occupy the 2013 university rankings, the proportion is highly distorted. The major question that hovers is: Why US universities dominate the Global University Rankings.

 

A research paper published by a leading university in Australia states socio-economic variables like a large population, sturdy revenue flow, high percentage of GDP that is spent towards research and English being the native language play a major role behind why US universities dominate the Global University Rankings. Although these variables don’t have much influence individually, together they add to the value. The performance of the UK and Netherlands universities validate the argument further. Apart from these major aspects, factors like public spending towards each citizen, volume of tertiary students in a country and the popularity of the nation among the migrants also affect the performance of a country in the World University Rankings.

Before further delving into the reasons, let us consider the methodologies and criteria used by various University Ranking Leagues while grading the universities. Here we will be considering the World University Rankings given by ARWU, THE and QS. Whereas ARWU and THU give more weightage to research, QS gives importance to the universities’ reputation among employers and academics.

As an initial step, ARWU selects every university that has any Nobel Laureates, Fields Medalists, highly Cited Researchers, papers published in Nature or Science, or significant amount of papers indexed by Science Citation Index-Expanded (SCIE) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI). To these universities, the following filters are applied subsequent to which the final rankings are arrived at:

  • Quality of Education: Decided by the number of alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals

  • Quality of Faculty

  • Research Output

  • Per Capita Academic Performance

Times Higher Education (THE) gauges the universities based on the following factors:

  • Teaching: the learning environment

  • Research: volume, income and reputation

  • Citations: research influence

  • International outlook: staff, students and research

  • Industry income: innovation

QS ranks the universities on the basis of the following aspects:

  • Academic Reputation (survey based)

  • Employer Reputation (survey based)

  • Faculty Student Ratio

  • Citations per Faculty

  • Proportion of International Students

  • Proportion of International Faculty

Now looking back at the reasons for why US universities dominate the World University Rankings, the first factor is the large population of the USA; More the number of persons, more the number of tertiary students and researchers, more the number of universities and more the number of research papers and accolade winners. While one may argue that under such circumstances, countries like China, Russia and India should also stand equal with the USA; the factors like the percentage of GDP which US spends on research and per tertiary student pose the counter argument.

The US spends more on education and research compared to other countries . As a result of which students receive better opportunities as well as better infrastructure. Also researchers not only from the US but also from round the globe make the universities in the USA their platform. As a result, more numbers of faculty and students receive important accolades and citations. More spending on tertiary education also ensures better education facilities and good faculty apart from a low student-teacher ratio. Due to this, the volume of international students keeps on swelling. Better students equal to a good recruitment scenario. As a cycle, the US universities become popular not only among migrant students and academics but also among employers for its deliverance of world-class education. 

 

Another important factor is the high income and good socio-economic condition of the USA. More well-off citizens result in a larger highly educated population.  Also,  a better lifestyle attracts a larger population of migrants from abroad, not only in the form of students but also as faculty. The indigenous language of US being English is an added factor for its good performance. It results in more number of students studying in English, more number of faculties with English as their medium and more number of English-speaking world-class universities which attract both native and non-native English speaking students and faculty. On the other hand in countries like Russia, Germany, Ireland, etc., a large number of good universities offer mostly non-English programmes.

 

Considering these factors, the performance of UK is equally laudable. Although in terms of numbers, there are less UK universities than US universities in the world university ranking lists, if considered in proportion to its population and number of universities, the performance of UK is also spectacular. Another good performer is Switzerland. The performance of UK also adds a new factor apart from these major reasons: the historical reputation. The legend associated with the universities attracts international students as well as faculty hence, aiding in their consistent good performance in the Global University Rankings. This gets validated by the difference in the QS scale as compared to that of ARWU and THE while considering USA and UK.

 

Given below is a graphical representation of the performance of US and UK universities in the Top 100 Universities list of the ARWU, THE and QS Global University Rankings 2013.

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