A special relationship

Based on peer regard and impact, Anglophone institutions dominate the social sciences and arts

October 16, 2008

These tables show that Harvard University – home to a formidable business school as well as to major schools devoted to government and law – is regarded as the best institution in the world for the social sciences and for the arts and humanities. The University of California, Berkeley comes second in both.

One outstanding result for the UK in the social sciences table is the fourth place for the London School of Economics, long the best-regarded social science institution outside the United States. In addition to being well liked by academics, the LSE is, as our table on page v shows, a magnet for top students from around the world and is regarded highly by employers. In the near future, the financial institutions of the City of London, which have long been the destination of choice for many LSE graduates, may be less frenzied recruiters than in the past. But the LSE and its competitors are likely to remain attractive for the financially and academically ambitious.

An interesting and contradictory story emerges from the citations per paper count for the social sciences. Here, the most cited papers come from King’s College London, which is 48th in the world on peer ranking in this area. It has 5.7 citations per paper, putting it well ahead of the LSE, its near neighbour, with a modest 2.6. Part of the explanation may be that King’s researchers work in areas such as health policy that have a publishing and citing pattern closer to medical research than to mainstream social science.

But while physicists, neuro­scientists and even economists live or die professionally on the basis of the journal articles they publish and the citations these papers attract, they do things a little differently in the arts and humanities. While journal papers are becoming more important in these fields than they have been in the past, the sheer range and variety of scholarly outputs in the area defy the kind of statistical analysis that yields insights into excellence elsewhere in academe.

This means that the Times Higher Education-QS approach of asking scholars around the world to name the best institutions in the fields in which they are expert is even more valuable when applied to the arts and humanities than to other fields. It answers directly the question: which universities have the best-regarded research in this broad range of subjects?

As in previous years, this table asserts the power of Anglo-Saxon culture. It is led by Harvard and dominated by the English-speaking world. McGill University in Canada delivers some teaching in French; but Peking University, at 23 in the table, is the first to work mainly in a language other than English.

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