Teaching provides a firm base

November 5, 2004

Although it may not always be apparent from the pay packets they receive, staff are the biggest budget item for most universities. But this analysis suggests that not all prominent universities feel that large staff numbers are indispensable to academic success.

The faculty-to-student ratio seen here is weighted at 20 per cent of the total score in our World University Rankings. But the top ten universities in terms of this measure are found at a wide range of positions in our overall rankings, from world top dog Harvard University to Case Western Reserve University at number 88.

The fact that nine of the top ten are US institutions suggests that this disparity is no artefact because staff and student numbers for all US institutions are collected on a consistent basis by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Instead, the table may well reflect the wide range of US university missions. It is dominated by large city-based universities with a heavy commitment to teaching and, in many cases, with a broad access and outreach mission. The overall champion, the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, is also a teaching-based institution, providing research-based training for aspiring teachers and academics.

Research-heavy universities with a technology orientation show up less well here than they do in our citations rankings or in our peer review. The exception is Imperial College London, which has a high faculty-to-student ratio, is rich in overseas staff and students, and well liked in our peer review. But perhaps because of its substantial staff numbers, it performs less well on citations per staff member than its reputation might suggest.

By contrast, the California Institute of Technology, fourth in the world overall, drops down to 11th on this analysis despite its low student numbers.

This analysis shows that the most student-oriented institutions vary widely in attractiveness to overseas staff and students. The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland, is top at attracting foreign students, but it comes in at joint 117th on the faculty-to-student count. The top institution for overseas students, the London School of Economics, is 29th on this measure.

But despite the wide variety in institutional behaviour this measure reveals, it is notable that the world's top university, Harvard, is also prominent in this ranking, where it appears in eighth place.

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World university rankings 2004
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