Harvard repeats double whammy

October 21, 2005

Familiar names top the lists but others have reason to cheer, especially in belles-lettres, says Martin Ince

Harvard is the big winner in the last of The Times Higher faculty-level analyses of world academic excellence, which we publish this week. It tops our tables for both the social sciences and the arts and humanities [see link to tables below].

But the data we show here suggest that Harvard's dominance of the social sciences is less complete than it is in other fields. Its lead is narrower than that which it enjoys in the arts and humanities or in medicine ( Times Higher , October 14), the other two categories in which Harvard has been placed first.

The social sciences include many subjects with high policy and practical impact, including economics, business and politics.

So it is not surprising that Harvard with its very visible schools of business and government has a high reputation in these fields. In this table, it narrowly beats the London School of Economics, which has a similar role in the UK but is far more international.

Two university rankings were compiled by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, who asked our peer reviewers around the world to name the top institutions in their field.

In addition, we show the research impact of each university that has more than 5,000 papers in the Thomson Scientific Essential Science Indicators from 1995 to 2005, collated by Evidence Ltd. We have not attempted to generate a single measure from these indicators.

In our data on citations per paper, the top US universities outgun their world rivals comfortably, as they do in our other faculty-level analyses.

Harvard has more than twice as many citations per paper as the LSE.

Although research is international, there is still a tendency to cite familiar authors that favours universities in big countries.

In addition, many well-regarded Asian institutions fail to get any citations at all - including world leaders such as Tokyo and Beijing universities along with the three other Japanese and three other Chinese universities that our peer reviewers placed in the top 100.

However, news announced this month suggests it is not essential to work in a top-ranked institution to be successful in the social sciences. The Nobel Prize for Economics was split between Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is ranked 54th in this table, and Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland, which comes nowhere near this top 100. The pair won the prize for their work on game theory analysis.

The other table - the world's top 100 universities in humanities - resembles others in the World University Rankings in one respect. Harvard is top. But it differs from the rest of the data we are publishing in several ways.

One arises from the publishing culture in the arts and humanities. Because many researchers in these fields produce books and monographs - or even plays and paintings - at least as much as they produce papers in journals, there is no point in trying to classify their impact on the basis of papers and citations. The Times Higher is involved in discussions about alternative ways of quantifying their output.

But there is better news about the peer review of arts and humanities universities. This year's peer review group was larger than that of 2004 and included many more arts and humanities experts.

As a result, we have enough data to publish a table of 100 top institutions in the field instead of the 50 we listed last year. Indeed, the 100th university on this list was cited by more people than the 50th in 2004.

This change explains why the column giving last year's rankings cites only 50 places.

The larger sample we have consulted this year gives us added confidence in our results. However, the same universities make it into the top seven as did in 2004. There are only slight changes in their order, with Cambridge University and Beijing winning out over Berkeley, Yale and Princeton universities.

The lower orders of this table show some of the biggest changes anywhere in the World University Rankings, mainly because of the increased size of the sample.

Most delighted will be Melbourne University, which is placed 8th this year after scraping in at 49 last year. La Sapienza University, Rome, ranked this year at 14, did not make it into the 2004 Arts and Humanities Top 50 at all. Celebrations will be more muted at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which was placed 21st last year but only 89th now.

The table also shows that if reputations rather than citations are being counted, a small volume of high-prestige research can count for a lot.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology appears in our arts table at number 12, unchanged from last year, presumably on the basis of its small but highly visible work in art and music. It is also seventh in the social sciences. Its best-known social scientist, political activist Noam Chomsky, was at one stage in his careerthe world's most-cited social scientist.

Tables available in Statistics section:  
The tables were co-ordinated by Martin Ince ( martin@martinince.com ), contributing editor of The Times Higher , using data from QS QuacquarelliSymonds ( www.qsnetwork.com ) and Evidence Ltd ( www.evidence.co.uk ). Next week we publish The Times Higher World University Rankings in full, with details of the world's top 200 institutions.

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