World University Rankings 2016-2017 by subject: results announced

Eight subject rankings reveal elite group of 14 US and European universities thriving across disciplines

September 28, 2016
Harvard University campus
Source: iStock
Harvard University comes top in three of the eight subject rankings

Expertise across a broad range of disciplines – rather than exceptional performance in just a few – is key to success in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, THE's latest subject rankings suggest.

Just 14 different universities make the top five of the eight subject rankings published this week, which cover arts and humanities; business and economics; clinical, pre-clinical and health; computer science; engineering and technology; life sciences; physical sciences; and social sciences. Both computer science and business and economics are new subject rankings for 2016-17.

Only one of the universities in this eminent group is outside the US and the UK: Switzerland’s ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

The other institutions are Stanford University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley in the US, and the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London in the UK.

All these universities appear in the top 33 places of the THE World University Rankings 2016-2017, published last week. The University of Oxford, which became the first UK university to top the table, makes the top five in seven of the subject rankings – more than any other institution – but is number one in only the clinical, pre-clinical and health list.

View the full World University Rankings 2016-2017 results by subject

- Arts and humanities
- Business and economics
- Clinical, pre-clinical and health
- Computer science
- Engineering and technology
- Life sciences
- Physical sciences
- Social sciences

Stanford and Harvard each appear in six of the top five lists. Stanford is number one for social sciences, and arts and humanities, while Harvard is first in the physical sciences and life sciences, and shares top spot with Stanford for arts and humanities.

Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford, said that history, literature and philosophy have been “strong at Stanford for some time” but there has been a “real change” in the strength of art history, music and theatre recently. Investment in these areas has included a new concert hall and a new collection of American art, he said.

Professor Saller added that Stanford is “different from most of its peers” in that students combine both the practice and study of arts subjects.

“Our university believes that the interaction between practitioners and scholars can be productive and it’s not the way most other universities are organised,” he said. “That’s promoted a good deal of creativity.”

He said that the strength of the university’s engineering department also impacts on other areas of the university, citing a design programme that combines both engineering and art.

All undergraduates at the institution are required to take a course in “creative expression”, which includes creative writing, sculpture and painting, regardless of their specialism, he added.

Many Asian universities have also risen up the subject rankings since last year, mirroring the strength of the continent in the overall THE World University Rankings. Peking University is now joint 35th for social sciences, up from joint 52nd last year, while Tsinghua University is 34th for physical sciences, up from 47th.

World University Rankings 2016-2017: top 5 universities by subject

Computer science ranking reveals more diverse list

A new Times Higher Education ranking of the world’s best universities for computer science features a number of young, rising universities from the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, many of which do not yet appear at the top of global university rankings.

The ranking of the world’s top 100 universities for computer science is the only THE subject ranking to be led by a university outside the US and the UK: Switzerland’s ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

Although the rest of the top 10 includes a familiar list of globally renowned universities, including the California Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford, the top 100 table also features universities that have more recently emerged on the world stage, including Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Nanyang Technological University, two of the youngest institutions in the THE rankings database at 25 years old. The institutions both take joint 14th place.

The table also includes institutions outside the top 200 of the THE World University Rankings 2016-2017, including the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay at 82nd (351-400 in the World University Rankings) and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia at 93rd place (401-500 in the World University Rankings).

Altogether, universities from 24 countries make the computer science ranking, more than any other subject table, and just 37 universities are in the US or UK, a lower figure than in any of the other lists, suggesting that the traditional Anglo-American hegemony does not exist to the same extent in this field.

Markus Püschel, head of the department of computer science at ETH Zurich, attributes its success in part to the Swiss government’s “generous funding” in research and education and the fact that professors at the university have a “permanent” incentive to recruit PhD students and postdoctoral researchers each year.

He said this allows the university to “engage in potentially high-impact long-term research”; for example one researcher at the institution is “designing a new internet architecture”, he said.

Professor Püschel added that the university’s tenure track system, which is rare in Europe, had also been “crucial” in attracting top academics from across the world. 

Ellie Bothwell

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