The innovators and educators

Technology powerhouses and social science leaders boast a global reach, reflecting governments’ awareness of these fields’ economic impact.

November 8, 2007

Our listing of the world’s top-rated universities for technology is the only place in the The Times Higher-QS World University Rankings where Harvard University is not at or near the top. It is in its lowliest place in our tables as rival Massachusetts Institute of Technology takes the top slot.

The US has 19 universities in our top 50 table, which is headed by MIT – probably the world’s biggest single technology innovator of the postwar period – followed by the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology, the intellectual motors of Silicon Valley. CalTech, with 1,200 academic staff, 1,200 postgraduate students and fewer than 900 undergraduates, is probably better geared up to produce top research than any other university in the world. Located just a few miles from Hollywood, it may also be the only institution to list prices for using its campus as a backdrop.

This table shows that European countries that seek to base their economic futures on quality manufacturing, rather than quantity, take engineering seriously. The UK has four universities here, with Cambridge and Imperial College London in the top ten. A further nine are in continental Europe, including two in Switzerland, which balances banking with mainstream engineering in its economic mix.

Our decision this year to list the separate elements of the Indian Institutes of Technology rather than seek opinion of the IIT overall has led to its leaving our main rankings. But their peers around the world have voted two IITs — Mumbai and Delhi — into this table.

Technology has emerged as a key battleground in Asian economic competition and the ranking reveals the institutions in the struggle. Tsinghua University, which likes to be known as the MIT of China, appears here in 16th place as the best placed of China’s three entries.

But Japan’s longer established technological dominance is reflected in the University of Tokyo’s place as Asia’s top technology university. It is in ninth spot, one above the National University of Singapore. Singapore’s Nanyang University, a specialist technology institution, is at 25. South Korea’s emergence as a technology power is supported by the appearance here of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, founded in 1971 in a deliberate attempt to create a Korean MIT.

Our listing of citations per paper shows that engineers and IT academics cite fewer papers than their scientific and medical colleagues. An average MIT biomedical paper has 11.3 citations; one in technology gets only four. The most cited papers come from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the French-speaking half of the Swiss federal university system, despite its modest 47th place in the peer review.

The social sciences affect more people every day than perhaps any other area of academic life. The economists who decide government policies are one species of social scientist, while the teachers our children encounter at school are another. Management is a social science, and people who run businesses around the world are increasingly likely to have a formal academic qualification such as an MBA.

Recent years have been marked by a growing convergence between the social and natural sciences. The former appear in their own right in the European Commission’s current Seventh Framework Programme for research. Like the arts and humanities, they are also becoming more international.

Globalisation creates a new need for international knowledge about societies as well as economies, while the post 9/11 world has a raised awareness that cultures that once seemed obscure might suddenly become important to know about. At the same time, rapid technological and social change in advanced societies means that the insights of social science are increasingly essential.

This table shows that world opinion regards the biggest US and UK universities as leaders in the social sciences. Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and Yale dominate from the US, and Oxford and Cambridge from the UK. But the top UK institution is the London School of Economics, which takes much the same role in the UK social sciences as Imperial College London does in science and engineering.

Because we list only institutions that teach undergraduates, this table does not include postgraduate universities such as the Institute of Education in London or the London Business School. But it is apparent that having a business school is a route to garnering esteem in the social sciences. Harvard’s is possibly the world’s best known, and joins the John F. Kennedy School of Government among the centres that put Harvard top of this table. Other big US business schools, such as Sloan and Wharton, probably account for the presence of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Pennsylvania at 11 and 22.

Of the five faculty-specific analyses on these pages, this is the one in which Asian institutions outside Australia and New Zealand show up least well. China, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong appear only six times, while the US has 21 institutions.

Our analysis of citations in the social sciences shows that, in contrast to medicine, Europe has the most cited researchers. University College London is the clear winner, despite being 32nd in our peer review for the social sciences. In future years, US and European social scientists may draw further ahead of the rest of the world as the field becomes more expensive and more dependent on advanced methodology and data-gathering.

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