World University Rankings 2023: results announced

Global balance of research power shows signs of shifting as US stagnates and China improves

October 12, 2022
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Chinese universities are closing in on the US’ global dominance of higher education, but internationalisation has proved to be a weak link for the Asian superpower, according to the latest edition of Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.

The biggest global ranking to date reveals that the research supremacy of US universities is waning, in part because of a growing gap in output between elite universities and the rest.

When it comes to research quality, as measured by citations, China is catching up. Over the past year, China’s average score for citations increased significantly, from 55.6 to 58.0; in the same period, the US score dropped slightly, from 70.0 to 69.4 (based on universities ranked in both years).

The trend is even more pronounced over the past five years. In 2019, the average citations score for China was 41.1, and that climbed to 55.6 in 2023 (based on universities ranked in each of the five years). The figures for the US were 75.9 in 2019 and 72.9 in 2023.

Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the third and fourth highest-scoring universities in China, respectively, both increased their overall score significantly this year, driven largely by robust performances on citations.

The average overall score for universities in the US increased by 0.1 between 2022 and 2023, while in China the rise over the same period was 1.6. The average increase across the world was 0.7.

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The US has 34 universities in the top 100, down from 38 last year and 41 five years ago: the University of Minnesota; the University of Maryland, College Park; Michigan State University; Ohio State University and Dartmouth College all dropped out of the top 100. China, meanwhile, has boosted its representation with seven universities in the top 100, up from six last year and three five years ago.

The Chinese government has consistently invested in higher education and research and development for more than 20 years, with funding specifically targeted at developing world-class universities, training scholars at top institutions in the West and building capacity in China.

Wei Zhang, an associate professor at the University of Leicester and an expert on higher education in China, said the country was now “unequivocally” a science superpower. “The quality of research outputs sourced from China is catching up with the US and will continue the upward trend. China’s concerted efforts and actions have paved its way to transform the global publishing landscape,” she said.

The picture is not entirely rosy for the Asian powerhouse, however. The rankings data also reveal that internationalisation is proving a weak link, with all four measures of the activity reflecting a decline.

China’s average score for international outlook dropped from 34.1 last year to 32.6, based on all Chinese universities ranked in 2022 and 2023; the country’s average score for international students slipped from 33.9 to 32.4, international co-authorship from 24.0 to 22.5, and international staff from 44.3 to 43.0.

China’s highest-ranking institution, Tsinghua University, scored 40.3 for international outlook this year, down from 50.6 the year before.

As the data for these metrics reflect the academic year 2019-20, the pandemic border closure is not the driving factor behind the decline.

“It would be safe to say that geopolitics is playing a significant role,” said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. “It is certainly the case that Chinese academics are more cautious and have to jump through more bureaucratic hoops to engage [with their] foreign counterparts than five years ago. Some have judged that it’s best just to keep their heads down.”

Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the University of Oxford, posited that as Chinese scientists and doctoral students have become less welcome in some countries than they used to be, “it is likely that sooner or later, higher education in China will [be] less welcoming to outsiders from at least those countries. That is the logic of international relations.

“It would be regrettable if the growth of foreigners working in higher education in China has stopped, as the engagement is good for everyone. However, it would be unsurprising, as we are now in a more conflictual era in the geopolitics of higher education,” he added.

Stephen Toope, who stepped down this month as vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said China’s emerging role as a science power means Western universities should collaborate with their Chinese counterparts. “It’s a huge problem if we can’t collaborate, especially with China,” he said. “No single institution, no single country, even the biggest, has the capacity to do all of the work that’s necessary to advance really complicated issues like climate change, infectious disease, etc. We need to collaborate.”

Dr Zhang believes China’s waning internationalisation will prove a short-lived trend. “Internationalising HE is at the top of China's priority list, and China is on its way to becoming a global destination for HE. The country has replaced Australia as the third largest destination of international students after the US and the UK,” she said.

“Previously popular destination countries for international students are losing their competitive advantages due to the international political situation and security concerns, [and] there is greater awareness of China’s value to the global economy. It is, therefore, in many nations’ long-term interest, including the UK, to engage with China in research and HE collaboration,” Dr Zhang added.

World University Rankings 2023: top 10 universities

Rank 2023

Rank 2022





University of Oxford

United Kingdom



Harvard University

United States



University of Cambridge

United Kingdom



Stanford University

United States



Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States



California Institute of Technology

United States



Princeton University

United States



University of California, Berkeley

United States



Yale University

United States



Imperial College London

United Kingdom

Meanwhile in the US, the top universities continue to dominate the upper reaches of the rankings, but a split is emerging between the quality of the research output from elite universities and the rest of the pack.

Rankings data show that the national average research and citation scores for the US are being held up by the few at the top when some of the lower-ranking universities are losing their research edge.

The citation score has dipped slightly for the top 25 per cent of US universities, but the bottom 75 per cent have lost about four points in five years. Conversely, the bottom 75 per cent of Chinese universities have raised their average citation score by 16 points.

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The variability in US universities is true for research output, industry collaboration and international outlook. For teaching, however, the top universities have declined in average score, while the bottom 75 per cent have improved.

“Overall, US universities perform very well in the rankings, although their dominance is diminishing slightly over time,” said David Watkins, head of data science at Times Higher Education.

“Deep analysis of the trends in our rankings data shows a clear difference between the overall performance of the top 25 per cent of US universities and the bottom 75 per cent. The top quartile of universities remain broadly in line with their global peers; however, the remaining 75 per cent are dropping in the rankings and underlying scores compared with their peers around the world.”

This year, the World University Rankings includes 1,799 universities across 104 countries and regions, making it the largest and most diverse university league table to date.

The table is based on 13 performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

This year’s ranking analysed over 121 million citations across more than 15.5 million research publications and included survey responses from 40,000 scholars globally. Overall, THE collected over 680,000 datapoints from more than 2,500 institutions that submitted data.

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Reader's comments (2)

I didn't see the University of word's Harvard!
Hi, when will the results for "by subject" rankingi be published?