Global ranking sees shift away from Western universities
China has an unprecedented seven universities in the world top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 – up from six last year and just two five years ago.
Tsinghua University becomes the best-performing Chinese institution (16th overall) in the rankings, which were released on Wednesday 12 October.
Asia is the most represented continent with 669 universities participating out of a total of 1,799 universities.
Japan leads the Asian countries with a total of 117 universities ranked, followed by China with 95 and India with 75.
Among individual nations, Germany also achieved unprecedented success with nine universities in the top 100 and 22 in the top 200.
However, the biggest increase in participation by continent was achieved by Africa, with a 36.6% increase in participation, up from 71 to 97 institutions.
Five new African countries appear in the rankings for the first time: Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The highest-ranking university in Africa is the University of Cape Town at rank 160.
The Latin American and Caribbean region sees a record 140 universities from 12 countries ranked. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia all have a high number of new entrants, with five newly ranked universities for Mexico and Colombia and four for Brazil.
Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education (THE), said the data show a “real shift in the balance of power in the global knowledge economy, away from the traditionally dominant Western world”.
“I think this shift – a global levelling up – is good news for the world. A rising tide is lifting all boats: access to top quality education is opening up globally and helping to diminish the brain drain from developing countries,” he said.
At the very top, normal service was resumed with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom ranked first for the seventh time in a row. It is followed by Harvard University (United States); the University of Cambridge (UK); Stanford University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; California Institute of Technology; Princeton University; University of California, Berkeley; and Yale University (all US); and Imperial College London (UK).
Although the US continues to dominate with 177 universities ranked overall, including seven in the world top 10 (although down one on last year), and 12 in the top 20, its supremacy is being challenged by Asia as the number of US universities represented in the top 100 continues to fall, from 43 in 2018, to 34 this year.
Baty said: “While the US and UK remain dominant in terms of their representation at the very top of the rankings, their relative power is waning.”
In Europe, outside the UK, Switzerland’s ETH Zurich is the highest-ranked institution (joint 11th, up from 15th place).
Australia has 10 universities in the top 200 with the University of Melbourne being the country’s best-performing institution, ranked 34th overall (down one place from 33rd).
Some 170 universities are ranked for the first time: 74 from Asia, 53 from Europe, 25 from Africa, 17 from South America and six from North America. At country level, there are: 13 newly ranked universities from China, nine from Poland, eight from Iran, eight from Pakistan and seven from Turkey. Among these 170 universities, Humanitas University in Italy has the best performance and is ranked in the 201-250 band.
Baty said the world rankings, overall, are much more inclusive, covering 104 countries and regions this year, compared to just 70 in 2016.
“We are also seeing more global diversity in creativity and innovation as well as more equal international collaboration. This should be great news for the sector as universities lead on the new ideas and breakthroughs needed to solve some of the world’s biggest shared challenges, like climate change and future pandemics,” he said.
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings draw on an analysis of 15.5 million research publications and 121 million citations to those publications, plus over 40,000 responses to an annual academic reputation survey and hundreds of thousands of additional data points covering a university’s teaching environment, international outlook and industry links.
Institutions are measured across 13 separate performance metrics.
A record number of African universities are represented this year as the continent makes dramatic progress in the rankings. Africa has 97 universities in the 2023 rankings, up from 71; and five African nations join the rankings for the first time: Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
South Africa’s top-ranking institution, the University of Cape Town, has jumped forward 23 places to 160th place. Nigeria has doubled its number of ranked universities from six to 12 and Nigeria’s University of Lagos has climbed into the world top 500. Meanwhile, rankings newcomer nation Zambia joins the rankings in the top 600.
The top five African countries in terms of the number of universities ranked are Egypt (26), South Africa (15), Algeria (13), Nigeria (12) and Morocco (8). The biggest improvement came from Nigeria, which doubled its number of ranked universities to 12.
Baty said the data shows that “Africa’s time is coming – its universities are increasingly prominent on the world stage and increasingly competitive in the global knowledge economy. Not only has South Africa’s flagship institution, the University of Cape Town, risen higher up the rankings this year, but the overall representation for Africa has dramatically increased.”
He said this visibility on the world stage and this increasing competitiveness should “really help to arrest the brain drain from the continent and help ensure that international research collaborations around some of the world’s shared grand challenges are placed on a much more equal footing, with institutions from the Global North entering into much more truly collaborative partnerships”.
Saudi Arabia remains leader of the Arab world. King Abdulaziz University is Saudi Arabia’s top-ranked university, shooting up from joint-190th place to joint-101 this year, and the highest-ranked university in the Middle East.
King Abdulaziz University’s number of publications increased by 24% compared to last year. In the 2017-21 period, 80% of their total publications have at least one international co-author, almost twice the world average (39.8%). Saudi Arabia has 21 institutions overall in the 2023 rankings, up from 15 last year.
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (201-250, up from 351-400) and King Saud University (251-300, up from 351-400) leap forward in the 2023 rankings.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates’ top two institutions have both made big leaps forwards – the University of Sharjah jumps to 251-300 from 401-500 and the United Arab Emirates University is ranked at 251-300, up from 351-400.
Qatar’s national flagship, Qatar University, has also moved up two bands to join the world top 250 list.
Baty said there is evidence of a “real renaissance” for the Arab world’s universities.
China took the top two spots held by Asian universities: Tsinghua University in 16th place and Peking University in 17th. And while China has seven universities in the top 100, Hong Kong also has five.
The Chinese mainland continues its overall rise in the rankings this year, with an average overall score that has improved from 35.9 three years ago to 41.8, driven by improvements in research reputation and research publication citations.
Baty said: “Chinese mainland’s rise and rise up the global rankings in recent years seems to have no limits.”
He said it had been driven by a clear, sustained and bold policy drive, with successive excellence initiatives since the 1990s driving dramatic improvements in the competitiveness of Chinese mainland’s universities and its global leadership in research.
“Chinese mainland has already overtaken the US in terms of the sheer volume of academic research it produces, and we can see the quality is rising rapidly too. Indeed, Chinese mainland is catching up on research quality so rapidly that if current trends remained the same, we would see Chinese mainland overtaking the US in the coming years.”
Japan has two universities in the world top 100: University of Tokyo, ranked 39th (down from joint 35th) and Kyoto University in 68th place (down from 61st). It remains the second most-represented country in the 2023 rankings with 117 institutions represented, behind the United States (177) but in front of the United Kingdom (103).
India, meanwhile, is the sixth most represented country in the 2023 rankings with 75 institutions, up from 56 in 2020 and more than double the figure of 2017 when just 31 Indian universities were ranked.
The Indian Institute of Science is India’s best performing university (251-300) and India has six new additions to the 2023 rankings. India’s best-performing newcomer, Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences (351-400), jumps straight to India’s joint-second place.
Baty said: “India’s policy leaders have fully embraced the vital need for India to join the global knowledge economy network and to ensure that the nation’s universities compete with, collaborate with, and benchmark themselves against the very best universities in the world.
“This will all be vital to realising India’s full potential as the world’s largest democracy and the key to unlocking the full economic might of India’s vast youth population – improving training in high-level skills and enabling new knowledge creation and innovation. And the data show that the policy is succeeding and delivering real change.
Singapore has two universities in the world rankings. Both are ranked in the world top 50: National University of Singapore ranks 19th and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore ranks 36th, up from 46.
Australia retains a strong overall position in the rankings, despite losing two universities from the world top 200 list. Melbourne now boasts Australia’s top two universities, with the University of Melbourne retaining its top position (34th, down from 33rd) and Monash University (44th, up from 57th) leaping ahead of Brisbane’s University of Queensland (53rd, up from joint 54th) to take Australia’s second top spot.
More Australian universities have improved their rankings than have dropped, and there are now seven Australian institutions in the world top 100, up from six last year.
Baty said the bigger picture remains “remarkably healthy for Australia, thanks in large part to very healthy levels of research funding over the past 15 years or so, strong research productivity and very strong international collaboration and long-term success in the lucrative overseas student market”.
“This year, for the first time, continental data reveal that Oceania has overtaken North America to enjoy the distinction of the highest average overall score (based on universities ranked each year since 2018),” he said.
“This is powered by improvements in research impact and global academic reputation, and we’ve seen more Australian universities gaining ground than slipping and more Australian institutions at the very top of the rankings.”
New Zealand’s top three universities have all lost ground in the 2023 rankings. The University of Auckland is joint 139th, down from joint 137th, Auckland University of Technology is ranked 251-300, down from 201-250, and the University of Otago is placed 301-350, down from 201-250.
The United Kingdom is the second most represented country in the world top 200 with 28 universities, and Germany is the third most represented with 22 universities.
But Europe is facing mixed results. Top-ranked universities in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Ireland have all lost ground. However, Italy boasts the ranking’s best-performing newcomer, Humanitas University (201-250), and France, Switzerland and Germany all have universities that have climbed into the world top 100.
Meanwhile, Central and Eastern Europe gain ground as Hungary and Estonia enter the world top 250, and Poland improves its representation with nine new entries into the rankings.
ETH Zurich is continental Europe’s top-ranked institution at joint 11th place, up from 15th. Technical University of Munich, Germany’s top-ranked institution, climbs eight places to 30th place. The University of Bern in Switzerland moves into the top 100 at 94th place, up from joint 101.
But France’s top-ranked Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris has dropped down to 47th place from joint 40th.
Karolinska Institute, Sweden’s leading university, has fallen 10 places to 49th place.
Baty said: “Europe is of course a thriving powerhouse of world-class higher education and research, but a significant shift in the balance of power in the knowledge economy has taken place, with Asian universities now outnumbering those from Europe in the overall THE World University Rankings.”
Asia is the best represented continent in the rankings, with 669 universities, compared to Europe’s 639 and 234 in North America. In 2018, 38.4% of all ranked universities were from Europe; today it has dropped to 35.5%.
Professor Dame Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “My colleagues and I are absolutely delighted that for the seventh consecutive year Oxford has been named the top university in the world.
“I am indebted to the extraordinary women and men of Oxford whose research and teaching continues to excite our imaginations, broaden our horizons, cure disease and explore deeply difficult problems for the betterment of society.”
But Baty warned that the UK faces major concerns about its increasing detachment from the research powerhouses of continental Europe and its research income lags that of its continental peers – UK research income decreased by 4% compared to last year and some of the UK’s prestigious universities have dropped in the 2023 rankings.
Brazil’s University of São Paulo leads a record number of Latin American entrants with a world top-250 place.
Latin America has a record 140 ranked institutions, including 62 universities making the ranking from Brazil, followed by Chile with 23 ranked institutions and 22 for Mexico.
This year’s ranking sees 17 new universities join from South America, increasing the presence of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador in the list.
However, according to Baty, universities and politicians across the continent need to turn the increased international engagement and visibility into performance improvements.
“In general, performance remains largely static across the continent, while nations in other continents rise: not least in Asia, both in the East and the West of the Asian continent. You have to run very fast to stand still in the global rankings and losing ground can risk a vicious circle of gradually losing access to global talent and partnerships,” he said.
The United States continues to dominate the THE World University Rankings in terms of representation. It has 58 universities in the world top 200 and 177 universities overall in the rankings, making it the most represented country in the table.
However, the US has suffered some falls as well. It has seven universities in the world top 10, down from eight last year, and its representation in the world top 100 continues to fall, from a peak of 43 in 2018 to 34 this year.
While the US has high overall numbers in the rankings, access to top-tier higher education in the US is very uneven. A large number of states in the heartland of the country do not have a single university in the top 100, and the performance of US universities is highly variable.
The US faces rising competition from China, whose representation in the higher ranks is increasing. In terms of research quality as measured by citations, China is catching up with the US.
Baty said America can no longer take for granted its decades-long dominance of world higher education and research, and it is China that is leading the challenge.
“While the US continues to dominate the rankings in terms of representation and its leading universities dominate the very top ranks, the facts are stark and should send a clear warning: America has lost one of its world top-10 places this year, and the number of world top-100 ranked universities from America has plummeted over time, from 43 in 2018 to 34 today,” he said.
He said in clear contrast China is increasing its representation in the higher ranks, East Asian nations like Singapore continue to rise and the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia, has real momentum and drive as its universities move up the table.
“China has already overtaken the US in terms of the sheer volume of academic research it produces and we can see the quality is rising rapidly too. Indeed, China is catching up on research quality so rapidly that if current trends remain the same, we would see China overtaking the US in the coming years.”
Canada’s top-ranked institution, the University of Toronto, maintains its rank in 18th place. Canada has seven universities in the world top 200, although four of its best-ranked institutions have lost ground in the 2023 rankings.
Baty said it is notable that increased competition has led to modest falls for some of Canada’s leading institutions: while the University of Toronto has held on to 18th place globally, the University of British Columbia, McGill University and McMaster University have seen modest slips down the world rankings.
All data for this article was supplied by Times Higher Education.