Academic Ranking of World Universities

The oldest of the major international rankings is the Academic Ranking of World Universities  (ARWU), published by the Centre for World-Class Universities and the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

  • First published in 2003, it has since been updated annually, with the latest edition appearing on 15 August 2013. ARWU publishes the best 500 out of the 1,000+ universities it ranks each year.

ARWU’s approach differs from other rankings in its historical nature and the emphasis on research publications. Its methodology includes:

  • Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals.
  • Staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals.
  • Highly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories.
  • Papers published in the journals Nature and Science.
  • Papers indexed in Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Science Citation Index.
  • Per capita academic performance of an institution.

Universities with a bias towards the sciences and with a history of research excellence have an inbuilt advantage over competitors with a mix of arts, humanities and the sciences and a broader approach to their activities.

  • The over-reliance on citations indices and publication rates, together with the inclusion of Nobel prizes won, has led to criticism in the past, and to accusations of double and triple counting.

ARWU’s origins lay in a wish on the part of the Chinese government to benchmark its universities against the best in the world.

  • Its roots within the university culture mean that is has been regarded with less suspicion than its competitors.

Because of its methodology, there are fewer changes year on year in the ARWU compared with its rivals.

  • Harvard led the rankings in 2013, as it has done every year since 2003. The top 10 list is almost completely unchanged from the previous year.
  • Consistency can be a virtue in organisations that change their nature as slowly as complex universities. But it will be the top ten where research excellence is concentrated and its use as a guide to the undergraduate experience is therefore restricted.

A number of others, including the Leiden Ranking and the Scimago Institutions Rankings follow a similar approach and are therefore similarly of less value to potentially mobile students.