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

Policymakers in US and UK told not to jeopardise the nations’ strength in the fields

November 4, 2015
US cheerleaders

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

The triumph of the US and the UK in the Times Higher Education subject ranking for social sciences sends a “powerful warning” to policymakers to “tinker” with funding “at your peril”.

That is the view of James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and chair of the Campaign for Social Science, who said that the success of the countries in the ranking “won’t continue without a focused concentration [on social sciences] by policy and by funding”.

The US has 43 institutions in THE’s top 100 list, including nine in the top 10, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in first place. The University of Oxford tops the UK’s 17 institutions in fourth place, while King’s College London makes its debut in the top 20 and the University of Edinburgh joins the top 30.

Professor Wilsdon said that the results should be viewed alongside the drive from the US Congress to cut the proportion of investment in the social and behavioural sciences.

“If I was [looking at the ranking] as a US policymaker, I would take it as a powerful warning to think twice before I start to chip away at what’s clearly a very strong US position,” he said.

He added that the table also provides a timely reminder to the UK government ahead of its spending review on 25 November that although science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects “tend to still dominate a lot of the discussion about UK science”, social sciences are “also a huge UK strength”.

“The message I take home is tinker at your peril with the ingredients that have given us a world-class social science base,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland all appear in the ranking for the first time.

Part of this reflects methodological changes, specifically the move from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science to Elsevier’s larger Scopus database to examine citations, but it also indicates improvements in these countries’ social sciences research.

Troels Østergaard Sørensen, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, the highest-ranked Nordic institution, in joint 52nd place, said that there were now incentives for researchers in the discipline to publish work in top journals.

“At the end of each year, we collect where research has been published, and this influences the way we allocate research funds in departments,” he said.

“[The department of] economics offers researchers salary supplements if they publish in the best journals.”

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 social sciences.

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

2015-16 rank Institution Country
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
2 Stanford University United States
3 Princeton University United States
4 University of Oxford United Kingdom
5 Yale University United States
6 Harvard University United States
7 University of Chicago United States
=8 University of Pennsylvania United States
=8 University of Michigan United States
10 University of California, Berkeley United States

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