How to use the rankings: Frequently asked questions

Practical advice on how to find what you're looking for, with guidance on how to interpret and use the results of university rankings.

September 28 2015


What are the Times Higher Education World University Rankings?

The THE World University Rankings are the gold standard global higher education ranking system.

For 12 years, Times Higher Education has produced an ordered list of universities, updated annually and trusted by students, parents and academics.

The universities are rated in five categories: Teaching, Research, Research Influence, Innovation and International Outlook.

The THE World University Rankings are unique in using these five scores to recognise excellence across all core missions of a leading global university: research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity.

How do I use the rankings to choose a university?

The rankings can help you choose a university by giving you more information about the quality of the teaching, research, innovation and environment at different institutions. It also provides an overall comparison between institutions.

However, the rankings cannot make a decision for you. Statistics do not give you a full picture of what it is really like at a university.

Combined with advice from current students and academics, and visits to the universities that you are interested in, the rankings can be used to make an informed choice about which university is right for your unique circumstances and priorities.

Ultimately, only you will know whether a university is a good fit for you. For this reason, THE never gives direct or personal advice about which university you should choose.

To help you with the decision process, you can see the table with the overall rank of universitiesunder performance breakdown you can sort universities by each performance indicator to suit your priorities, and you can further explore by key statistics to discover more information about the university environment.

If you are interested in how a university ranks for a specific subject, you can choose the relevant Subject Ranking – see here for a list of subjects covered by each ranking.

I have an offer from a specific university. Should I accept it?

THE cannot make that decision for you, since every person’s circumstances are unique. You can browse the rankings to compare how that university ranks against others for the same subject or in the same region. You can also explore the student advice guides to hear from experts, students and graduates about the university experience.


How is the rank calculated?

Overall rank is calculated from scores for 13 different performances indicators, grouped into five categories: Teaching, Research, Research Influence, Innovation and International Outlook.

To produce the 13 indicators for each university, THE’s in-house data team analyses data that universities supply (for example, staff-to-student ratios, doctorates awarded, international students and research income), the results of a “reputation survey” sent to selected academics across the world, and information about published research papers and citations, using Elsevier’s Scopus database.

Each performance indicator (and correspondingly each of the five broader performance categories) is assigned a percentage weighting in the overall ranking score.

Teaching quality counts for 30 per cent, Research counts for 30 per cent, Research Influence counts for 30 per cent, International Outlook counts for 7.5 per cent and Innovation counts for 2.5 per cent.

You can read more about the methodology and why the performance indicators are relevant markers of world-leading universities in ‘The World University Rankings: Explained’.

What do the five ‘performance breakdown’ scores mean?

See ‘The World University Rankings: Explained’ here.

Teaching is a measure of the learning experience and quality at a university. It is based on the reputation among academics, and statistics about staff, students and research.

Research is a measure of both the quality and quantity of research output, based on reputation, research income and productivity.

Citations measures how influential that research is, and counts the number of times work published by academics at the university is cited in other papers.

International Outlook measures the environment and attitude with respect to international students, staff and research. It is based on international-to-domestic ratios across staff, students and research collaborations.

Innovation or Industry Income is a measure of innovation at a university, based on how much the university earns from its inventions and industrial work.

What are the ‘key statistics’?

Key statistics provide more information about the student experience and university environment. In addition to the overall rank and performance breakdown, you can see:

Number of students
Staff-to-student ratio
Male-to-female students
Percentage of international students

I am looking for:

More information about the universities

For facts and data about specific countries, universities and courses, and to hear from experts and students themselves, head to the Student section, where you can search the university directory, keep up to date with student news, and find helpful guides to universities, admissions, finance, employment and many other topics.

A specific university

You can search the rankings by university name or country, using the search tool at the top of the table. If the university you are looking for is not in the rankings, you can search the university directory by name or country to find more information. You can also search the rankings from within the directory by selecting World University Rankings 2015-16 and entering the number ranks you want to search between.

Universities in a specific country or region

You can filter the rankings table using the filter tool at the top to see only universities in countries of your choosing. You can filter by as many countries as you want. For example, if you wanted to see only universities in the US, UK and Australia, you could add those three tags in the filter box at the same time.

A specific course to study

If you already know what you want to study, the Subject Rankings in six categories can help you find the best universities for that subject. The subject rankings are:

Arts and humanities
Clinical, pre-clinical and health
Engineering and technology
Life sciences
Physical sciences
Social sciences

See here for a list of subjects included in each ranking.

Further questions:

Why can’t I find a university I am looking for?

If you can’t find a university when you search the rankings by university name, it could be because that university is not ranked, or is known under a different name. Try searching the rankings by country instead, or search the university directory to find an unranked university.

A university may not be ranked for two reasons: either it does not fulfil the inclusion criteria for the rankings, or it did not score highly enough to be included.

A university is not included if it does not teach undergraduates, if it teaches only one subject, or if it produces fewer than an average of 200 research papers a year.

Can I see a ranking just for a specific subject I want to study?

Yes, you can see Subject Rankings for six broad disciplines. The subject rankings are grouped by:

Arts and humanities
Clinical, pre-clinical and health
Engineering and technology
Life sciences
Physical sciences
Social sciences

See here for a list of subjects included in each ranking.

Is there a different table for undergraduate and postgraduate study?

There is not a different table for undergraduates and postgraduates. However, the same performance metrics are relevant to postgraduates, particularly given that Teaching actually takes into account doctorate-to-bachelor student ratio and doctorates awarded per number of academic staff ratio.

Why are the rankings so different to last year?

The rankings are dynamic and there are significant changes year-on-year due to changes in university performance.

However, in 2015-2016, the rankings included more data to provide a more inclusive overview of world-leading universities, resulting in 400 more universities ranked than the previous year. Of these new universities, 61 ranked in the top 400, which affects the rank of any institution below a new university.

The other methodological change that affected the ranking positions this year was the exclusion of “super-papers” from being counted in research and citation scores. These papers (mostly in particle physics) are unusual in having thousands of authors from different institutions, and were skewing the scores for a very small number of institutions for whom the super-papers were a primary research output. Excluding these papers is a more reliable way of representing the true research quality and impact of an institution as a whole. The change has not affected institutions with high research output and impact.

Why has my university dropped rank?

There could be many reasons why your university has dropped, most likely due to an actual change in how the university is perceived or performs.

A university’s score depends on its reputation, research income and influence, among other more stable factors. If policy changes at a university affect how it is perceived, it could score lower in the reputation survey of academics. Likewise, policy changes can affect research income, productivity and even impact.

For more information and news about your specific university, try searching THE Professional or the Student section for policy news or information about student life.

What subject ranking does my course fall under?

  Course Subject Ranking
A Acoustics Engineering & Technology
  Aerospace Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Agriculture, Fisheries & Food Life Sciences
  Allergy Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Anaesthesiology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Anatomy & Morphology Life Sciences
  Anthropology Social Sciences
  Archaeology Arts & Humanities
  Architecture Arts & Humanities
  Area Studies Social Sciences
  Art Arts & Humanities
  Asian Studies Arts & Humanities
  Astronomy & Astrophysics Physical Sciences
  Automation & Control Systems Engineering & Technology
B Behavioural Sciences Life Sciences
  Biology, Biochemistry and Biotechnology Life Sciences
  Biomedical Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Biomedical Social Sciences Social Sciences
  Biophysics Life Sciences
  Business Social Sciences
C Cardiovascular System & Cardiology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Chemical Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Chemistry Physical Sciences
  Civil Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Classics Arts & Humanities
  Communication Social Sciences
  Computer & Information Science Engineering & Technology
  Construction & Building Technology Engineering & Technology
  Criminology & Penology Social Sciences
  Crystallography Physical Sciences
  Cultural Studies Arts & Humanities
D Dance Arts & Humanities
  Decision Support/Statistics Social Sciences
  Demography Social Sciences
  Dentistry & Oral Surgery Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Dermatology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
E Earth & Environmental Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Earth Sciences Physical Sciences
  Ecology, Evolution & Environment Life Sciences
  Economics Social Sciences
  Education & Educational Research Social Sciences
  Electrical & Electronic Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Energy & Fuels Engineering & Technology
  Entomology Life Sciences
  Ethnic Studies Social Sciences
F Family Studies Social Sciences
  Film, Radio & Television Arts & Humanities
  Forestry Life Sciences
G Gastroenterology & Hepatology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Genetics & Heredity Life Sciences
  Geography Social Sciences
  Geriatrics & Gerontology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
H Haematology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Health Care Sciences & Services Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  History Arts & Humanities
  History & Philosophy of Science Arts & Humanities
I Imaging Science & Photographic Technology Engineering & Technology
  Immunology Life Sciences
  Industrial Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Infectious Diseases Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Instruments & Instrumentation Engineering & Technology
  International Relations Social Sciences
L Languages, Philology and Linguistic Studies Arts & Humanities
  Law Social Sciences
  Legal Medicine Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Library Science Social Sciences
  Literature Arts & Humanities
M Marine Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Materials Science Engineering & Technology
  Mathematical Methods in Social Sciences Social Sciences
  Mathematics & Statistics Physical Sciences
  Mechanical Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Mechanics Engineering & Technology
  Medical Ethics Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Medical Informatics Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Medical Laboratory Technology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Medicine, General & Internal Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Metallurgy & Metallurgical Engineering Engineering & Technology
  Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences Physical Sciences
  Mining & Mineral Processing Engineering & Technology
  Music Arts & Humanities
  Mycology Life Sciences
N Nanotechnology Physical Sciences
  Neurosciences & Neurology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Nuclear Science & Technology Engineering & Technology
  Nursing Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Nutrition & Dietetics Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
O Obstetrics & Gynaecology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Oncology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Operations Research & Management Science Engineering & Technology
  Ophthalmology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Orthopedics Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Otorhinolaryngology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
P Paediatrics Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Palaeontology Life Sciences
  Parasitology Life Sciences
  Pathology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Pharmacology & Pharmacy Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health/Life Sciences
  Philosophy Arts & Humanities
  Physics Physical Sciences
  Physiology Life Sciences
  Plant Sciences Life Sciences
  Political Science Social Sciences
  Polymer Science Physical Sciences
  Psychiatry Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Psychology Social Sciences
  Public Administration Social Sciences
  Public, Environmental & Occupational Health Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
R Radiology, Nuclear Medicine & Medical Imaging Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Rehabilitation Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Respiratory System Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Rheumatology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Robotics Engineering & Technology
S Social Issues Social Sciences
  Social Work Social Sciences
  Sociology Social Sciences
  Sport Sciences Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Surgery Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
T Telecommunications Engineering & Technology
  Theatre Arts & Humanities
  Theology & Religion Arts & Humanities
  Toxicology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health/Life Sciences
  Transplantation Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
  Transportation Engineering & Technology
  Tropical Medicine Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
U Urban Studies Social Sciences
  Urology & Nephrology Clinical, Pre-clinical & Health
V Veterinary Sciences Life Sciences
  Virology Life Sciences
W Women's Studies Social Sciences
Z Zoology Life Sciences

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