World University Rankings 2015-2016 by subject: physical sciences results

Asia doubles representation while European countries face varied performance

November 18, 2015
Worker checks thin-film silicon solar module, Truebbach
Source: Reuters

View the full list of the world's top 100 universities for physical sciences

Universities in Asia have boosted their standing in this year’s Times Higher Education ranking for physical sciences subjects as Europe records mixed results.

While the top 10 is solely made up of institutions in the US and the UK, the number of Asian representatives in the top 100 has doubled to 14. The National University of Singapore (NUS) makes its debut both in the top 20 and as the leading Asian institution in 19th place, while Taiwan is represented for the first time by the National Taiwan University (NTU) in 63rd place.

Shiuh-Tzung Liu, dean of the College of Science at NTU, attributed its success to several “persistent efforts” including: recruiting high-calibre academics; improving research and teaching infrastructure; boosting financial support through grants for critical research needs; and promoting intra-disciplinary and collaborative research. He added that the department concentrates on “cultivating early career scientists and students with high potential to become the next-generation leaders in their fields of expertise”.

Meanwhile Europe has had a varied performance. Germany and the Netherlands have each increased their representation by three, to 10 and five universities respectively, but the UK and France have both lost two representatives, claiming 11 and five institutions respectively. The University of Cambridge leads the continent in joint sixth place, while Switzerland's ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is the top European university outside the UK in 11th place.

Johannes Barth, dean of the physics department at Germany’s Technical University of Munich, which ranks in 31st place, said that the faculty has “agile and effective subunits” which allow “cooperative decision-making and efficient action”.

Our department structure “created the optimal basis for participation in research networks, national and international projects and last but not least in [Germany’s] Excellence Initiative,” he said.

“For many years the department of physics has fostered a stringent and unique talent development. The idea of constant change and the achievement of excellence in research and teaching is rooted in the daily life of the department and provides continuous high attractiveness and visibility.”

The THE subject rankings use the same 13 performance indicators as the flagship World University Rankings but are recalibrated with different weightings to suit each field.

View the full methodology, along with the top 100 universities for physical sciences

World's top 10 universities for physical sciences, 2015-2016

2015-16 rank Institution Country
1 California Institute of Technology (Caltech) United States
2 Stanford University United States
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
4 University of California, Berkeley United States
5 Princeton University United States
=6 Harvard University United States
=6 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
8 University of Oxford United Kingdom
9 Cornell University United States
10 Carnegie Mellon University United States

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Print headline: Asia buoyant as Europe treads water

Reader's comments (5)

As you have already admitted, these tables exclude citation data from all large international collaborations. This is an arbitrary and unjustifiable change that excludes, for example, all major particle physics experiments. In effect you have branded as worthless some of the science that defines what is world-leading. For example, the neutrino oscillation experiment that won this year's Breakthrough Prize would be excluded from consideration in these tables. It is highly likely that any changes in these tables since last year are entirely down to changing methodology, so your rhetoric surrounding them is grossly misleading. Who knows what damage this nonsense will do to particle physics groups around the world, as their institutes suddenly find themselves falling in league tables precisely because they are doing world-leading research.
Thanks for your comment P.Coles, but the physical sciences subject ranking includes all physics papers, including kilo-author papers on particle physics.
That's not what you say in your methodology. I quote: "This year we have removed the very small number of papers (649) with more than 1,000 authors from the citations indicator." There is no mention of this changing for the subject-specific league tables. Also it would be quite easy to demonstrate how much of the change in league table position is due to change in methodology by producing another version of the table with this year's data and last year's methodology. Have you done this simple analysis.
We decided to exclude papers with more than 1,000 authors from the main World University Rankings. However, these kilo-author papers were included in the physical sciences subject ranking as they are more commonplace in this subject area. Times Higher Education's data and analytics director Duncan Ross has explained the decision to remove the papers from the main rankings in this opinion piece: The exclusion amounts to the removal of 0.006 per cent of the papers analysed and accounts for 0.04 per cent of all the 50 million citations to those papers.
Yes, I've read his attempt to justify the decision to remove them. I take your decision to reinstate to be an admission that this decision was wrong, which it clearly was. However, your statement on the methodology page says nothing about this change of heart and it should be updated. Moreover, you haven't answered the obvious - and easily answered - question about doing your calculation with last year's weightings and this years data. This would be trivial to do, but I suspect it would reveal that the changes in your tables are an artefact of such changes rather than reflecting differences in any kind of performance.

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