THE World University Rankings explained

How are the results of the World University Rankings and Subject Rankings calculated? Read an explanation of the methodology and what the results mean.
September 22 2015

Before you even hit your twenties, you are faced with one of the most important decisions of your life: which university to choose.

The decision will, for better or worse, affect your social life, finances and career for years to come.

For more than a decade, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings have been providing young people and their families with trusted guidance to help with this decision.

The 2015-2016 rankings are the most global and inclusive yet, with 29 countries represented for the first time, and a total of 800 universities ranked – double the number included in previous years.

This enables you to evaluate a greater range of institutions, whether you are looking to study abroad or domestically.

For the first time in 12 years of the THE World University rankings, the huge database behind the rankings was collected and compiled in-house by an expert data team. 

In the past, the rankings have been powered by data from Thompson Reuters. With the new in-house data team, we can ensure even greater transparency over the core raw data. More of this raw data is now publicly available as “key statistics” for each university: the number of students, the student gender ratio, the staff-to-student ratio, and the percentage of international students.

Each university is judged in five categories covering the core missions of all world-class, global universities: Teaching, Research, Citations (research influence), Industry Income and International Outlook.

The five scores in these categories for each ranked university are available under “performance breakdown”. This means that in addition to browsing universities by overall rank, or searching for a specific institution, you can sort the table by the five metrics to make a decision based on particular priorities.

THE World University Rankings methodology

Teaching: The Learning Environment

For any student and any subject, the most directly relevant factor is the teaching environment: what it is like to learn at the university.

The rankings are based on a strong belief that the quality of teaching at a university is itself predicated on the quality of its research: knowledge production and knowledge transfer at the university.

For this reason, the Teaching metric is measured by five performance indicators: a reputation survey, the ratio of staff to students, the ratio of doctorate students to undergraduate students, the number of doctorates awarded per academic staff, and institutional income.

These give a good indication of the prestige, facilities and resources of the teaching environment, all of which would have a direct impact on you, the student.


A university might excel in teaching but not in research: a good teacher does not necessarily a good researcher make. But the quality and volume of research at an institution is nonetheless relevant to you if you are seeking the best academic experience.

It is one thing to be taught about the ideas, theories and results at the forefront of academic advances, but quite another to be taught by the researchers responsible for such leaps.

If you have the opportunity to learn from leading researchers, you will benefit both intellectually and practically. You will learn not just about the research they are doing, but also pick up essential intellectual skills that will serve you your whole life.

At the best research institutions, you will also be able to take advantage of resources and facilities available only in such environments.

The Research metric is measured by a reputation survey, which shows how university research is perceived by academic peers; research income, which indicates the importance and quality of research; and research productivity, which indicates how much high-quality research is published by academics at the institution.

Citations: Research Influence

The ultimate test of the quality of research is its impact, for all research aims to be influential and important.

In the rankings, the research influence of a university is measured by the number of times that work by an academic at that university is cited by another scholar.

The effect of research influence on your university experience is similar to the effect of research quality. The greater the number of citations of a university’s work, the more likely that you will engage with scholars who are leading and expanding the discussions in the field.

Put more romantically, research impact is a reflection of how much an institution contributes to the worldwide project for collective and collaborative understanding of the world. This contribution is a both a measure of quality at a university, and a source of pride for both academics and students.

Industry Income

Mostly relevant for science, engineering, business and technology subjects, this factor is increasingly becoming a priority for universities and students. It indicates the commercial impact of an institution’s research, which is itself a reflection of the industrial value of the research.

The industry income indicator is of fundamental importance if you prioritise the real-world application of the science and technology research.

International Outlook

Universities are no longer compared just with rivals in their own city, or even their own country; world-leading universities are competing globally and attracting students and researchers from across the world.

International outlook is therefore a mark of a top institution, relevant both to international and domestic students.

It is measured by three indicators: international to domestic student ratio, international to domestic staff ratio, and the proportion of research that involves international collaboration.

The benefits of an international environment on campus range from cultivating open-minded discussions with diverse opinions to improving cross-cultural relations.

But at a more basic level, an isolated institution without international connections simply cannot count itself among the world’s best universities in an increasingly global and mobile world.

The Subject Rankings

In addition to the THE World University Rankings, six individual subject rankings allow you to delve deeper across different disciplines: Arts and Humanities; Clinical, Pre-clinical and Health; Engineering and Technology; Life Sciences; Physical Sciences; and Social Sciences.

The 13 performances indicators are the same, but the weighting of each indicator is adjusted for the particular features and priorities of the discipline.

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