China, Japan and Switzerland are tied as the third most represented countries in the top 20 universities for teaching, with one university each.
The top 20 is dominated by US institutions, which take 13 spots. The UK trails behind with only four universities with top-20 teaching scores, and Australia’s institutions fail to make the cut.
The University of Tokyo in Japan and Peking University in China, ranked in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings at positions 43 and 42 respectively, both made it into the best 20 universities in the world based on teaching performance.
Lino Guzzella, president of ETH Zurich, said: “High-quality teaching is of central importance to ETH; this is confirmed by the high score of 91.3 for teaching reputation. The comparatively lower result for teaching rank is due to the other indicators besides teaching reputation which account for this category.
“It is worth noting that as an institution with a public mandate for education, ETH has a starting position very different to that of its many privately financed competitors in the top 20. However, we are keeping an eye on this development and will continue to deliver the best teaching we can.”
Students per staff member for top-200 universities, by country
Teaching scores are one performance factor in the World University Rankings 2015-16, released on Wednesday 30 September.
Only two of the universities in the top 20 score higher for teaching than they do overall.
The California Institute of Technology scores marginally higher for teaching than its overall score, while The University of Tokyo scores more than 10 points higher for teaching because of disappointing scores for international outlook and industry pulling down its overall performance.
The World University Rankings are ordered by performance across five categories, but the top 20 for teaching reveals which institutions have the best reputation and environment for teaching students.
The best university for teaching is in fact also the best university overall: Caltech, which has topped the World University Rankings for several years.
In the upper echelons of the teaching ranking, US institutions are just edging in front of British counterparts.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge are both overtaken in the teaching ranking by US institutions Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which each ranked lower than at least one of the prestigious British universities in the overall ranking.
In the US, teaching methods at universities generally involve smaller classes and more time with teachers than at institutions in the UK, where there is more emphasis on independent learning and large lectures.
Oxford and Cambridge present an exception to this rule. At both universities undergraduate students typically meet teachers for personal tutorials once a week, perhaps explaining the strength that Oxbridge has over other British institutions with respect to its teaching performance.
"Oxford's collegiate system and tutorial teaching give it many complementary advantages," explained Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton.
"Colleges create small supportive communities within the larger Oxford community, which can be particularly helpful for international students in helping them settle in, rather than feeling lost in a big institution.
"The tutorial model of teaching, meanwhile, delivers very close personal attention from leading academics, and offers a very personalised education – you can explore what interests you most with your tutor. Very few other universities in the world offer this level of close contact with leading academics."
The top 20 universities for teaching 2015-16
|Teaching Rank||Name||Country||WUR rank||Overall score||Teaching score|
|1||California Institute of Technology||US||1||95.2||95.6|
|3||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||US||5||92.0||89.4|
|4||University of Cambridge||UK||4||92.8||88.2|
|5||University of Oxford||UK||2||94.2||86.5|
|8||University of Chicago||US||10||87.9||85.7|
|11||Imperial College London||UK||8||89.1||83.3|
|12||University of Pennsylvania||US||17||85.2||82|
|13||University of Tokyo||Japan||43||71.1||81.4|
|14||University of California, Los Angeles||US||16||85.8||80.8|
|15||University of California, Berkeley||US||13||87.2||80.4|
|16||University College London||UK||14||87.1||78.1|
|19||Johns Hopkins University||US||11||87.6||77.6|
|20||ETH Zurich–Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich||Switzerland||9||88.3||77|