Oxford is just the business at top

October 27, 2006

UK institutions head both tables, as research in these fields finally gets global recognition, says Martin Ince

The UK's high standing in the academic world is confirmed by The Times Higher 's analysis of institutions in the social sciences.

Peer reviewers in the social sciences around the world think that the UK has three of the world's top five universities in their specialist field.

Oxford University edges out Harvard University in the US to take the top slot. The London School of Economics takes third place.

The social sciences include several of the most applied subject areas in academe, such as politics, economics, geography and the less medicine-related areas of psychology. But in recent years, these have been joined in prominence by business and management studies, arguably the fastest-growing subject in universities across the world.

The rise of business studies may help to explain the positions of both Oxford and Harvard in these tables. Harvard has long had what may be the world's most prestigious business school. It also boasts the Kennedy School of Government and a host of other highly rated social science departments.

In Oxford, the Said Business School is well regarded despite being only ten years old.

The LSE has been cautious about introducing subjects that might dilute its academic excellence, but it has embraced executive courses and other forms of business education.

This table also shows that the most prominent US universities are well regarded for their social science research. The University of Chicago, the frequent destination of the Nobel Prize for Economics, appears here in ninth position. Columbia University, home of this year's winner Edmund Phelps, is ranked 14th.

But business and economics are only part of the story. Governments across the world are becoming aware that they need more knowledge of other countries and cultures. This is enhancing their interest in geography, anthropology and related topics. This trend may benefit institutions such as the School of Oriental and African Studies, in 95th position here.

King's College London, a principal world centre for war studies, lies in 80th place. Pessimists might speculate that it has something to gain from the current state of the world.

In the longer term, an international focus for social science research may enhance interest in collaboration between developed-world universities and institutions such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University in India and Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, seen here in positions 57 and 47 respectively.

International collaboration is emerging as a theme in the social sciences for academic as well as political reasons. The development of data sources such as the European Social Survey now allow credible research to be carried out internationally, and social sciences will be a significant element of the forthcoming European Union Seventh Framework Programme for research.

Research funders in the social sciences are also becoming more international. Ian Diamond, chief executive of the UK's Economic and Social Research Council, said: "We are doing everything we can to make international collaboration barrier free for people in UK universities, so it is as simple for them to work with someone in another country as it is to collaborate within the UK.

"These findings show that UK social scientists are highly regarded by their colleagues around the world and we aim to help their influence grow. But there are some countries with which it is still very difficult to set up international co-operation."

The second column of data we show represents the number of citations per paper published between 2001 and 2006 and is taken from the Thomson Scientific Essential Science Indicators (ESI) database.

It shows that social sciences lack the heavy paper-publishing culture that science and medicine take for granted. A medical paper from Harvard is cited an average of 14 times ( Times Higher , October 13) compared with four times for a social sciences paper. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology head this list.

More significantly, 34 of the 100 institutions, including the LSE, do not have the minimum 5,000 ESI papers used for this measure.

Professor Diamond said: "This shows that citations are flawed as a way of analysing institutions in areas such as education, law, politics and anthropology, where the number of papers is below the radar for citation indices. This means that institutions that are well renowned internationally can fail to show up in analysis."

The London Business School is not listed here because it does not teach undergraduates, but it is a free-standing college of the University of London.

* Our analysis of the top non-academic producers of social science papers shows that two US institutions publishing in medical sociology are well regarded, because of the large number of citations of their medical papers, as is the National Bureau of Economic Research, a major observer of the US and world economy.

Rand Corporation, a large consultancy with strong links to the US Military, also shows strongly. It has a long-running interest in human organisations and behaviour, as do the major research academies of France, Germany and Russia.

Links to tables in Statistics section
The world's top social science universities
The world's top non-universities in social science

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