What impact does university reputation have on students?

As the World Reputation Rankings 2016 are published, students at prestigious universities in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, China and Japan explain the impact university reputation has on them
May 4 2016

View Times Higher Education's full list of the world's most prestigious universities


Students at world-renowned universities in Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Japan and China have revealed the impact that their university’s reputation has on their experience, alongside the Times Higher Education 2016 World Reputation Ranking released today.

While the usual suspects in the US dominate the top of the ranking – Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University take the top three positions – two Asian institutions make it into the top 20: the University of Tokyo in Japan in 12th place and Tsinghua University in China in 18th place.

Lei Ann Watanuki, a student from the US who studied in English at the University of Tokyo, said: “I chose to attend the University of Tokyo mainly for its prestige but also because I wished to experience college life in a completely different setting from my suburban home town in the US.

“At this point, I have only completed one semester, but already I am impressed by the high academic standards of my professors and peers, particularly in mathematics. Many Japanese Nobel laureates are affiliated with UTokyo, which I would say sheds a positive light on the university.”

Strikingly, the top six universities all achieve significantly higher scores than the universities ranked directly below them, showing that the reputation of a select group of elite institutions for being “the best in the world” is particularly widespread.

PhD student Shivani Radhakrishnan – who studied at Princeton University and the University of Oxford and is currently at Columbia University – expressed surprise that Oxford scores significantly higher in the survey than both Princeton and Columbia.

She says: “I'm sure that part of the explanation for the Oxbridge prestige is that they’re older than some peer institutions, and part of the colonial legacy means that people worldwide learned to see attachment to these institutions as a mark of achievement.

“I think in the case of Princeton, part of why it doesn't feature as highly is that it is so very undergraduate-focused. But I don’t think the differences in reputation between these groups of universities are reflective of the overall experience.”

She also suggests that the growing tech industry and development in Silicon Valley contribute to the perceived excellence of MIT and University of California, Berkeley compared with Princeton, Yale University and Columbia University, which, while highly ranked, receive much lower reputation scores.


Claim a free copy of the full World Reputation Rankings 2016 digital supplement


The survey asked experienced, published scholars to vote for universities that they considered to be the best for teaching and for research; overall scores are calculated as a percentage of the top university’s votes.

In 19th place, ETH Zurich in Switzerland received the most votes for any European institution outside the UK.

Kay Schaller, president of the Association of Students at the university, said that his experience, coupled with conversations with exchange students, validates ETH Zurich’s strong reputation and has shown him that the university can easily compete with others around the world.

He said: “I think this reputation comes from good international cooperation – whether through scientific collaboration, projects with industry or just exchanges on different levels.

“The graduates of ETH have, in general, a very good reputation both in industry and research – especially in the Swiss and European area.”

Shubhi Sahni and Mobolaji (MJ) Edun, both students at the University of Toronto in Canada – ranked just outside the top 20 – agree that the university provides the type of excellent opportunities, classes and resources that would be expected from a world-class institution.

“The diversity of the school and the opportunities to choose from hundreds of programmes and thousands of different courses is outstanding. You meet students from all over the world who help shape your understanding of other cultures. There are extensive resources and opportunities accompanied with the fact the university is located near financial and entertainment district,” said MJ.

Shubhi adds: “The University of Toronto stays true to the conditions of a world-renowned university with rigorous standards and competitive opportunities.

“The very fact that it's located in the heart of Toronto opens up so many doors for enriching internships, unique summer jobs and mentorship possibilities.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, six of the eight Ivy League universities in the US are ranked in the top 20 for reputation.

Nicolette Tan, from Singapore, applied to top universities in the UK and the US, ultimately accepting a place at the University of Pennsylvania.

She explains the university’s strong reputation saying: “Top speakers, business leaders [and] academics [are moving ] through the campus on a regular basis. [In addition, there are] research opportunities on the latest, hottest issues [and] strong academic partnerships with leading universities worldwide. That’s Penn, and I’m very proud.”


World's top 20 universities with the best reputation

World Reputation Rank 2016

University

Country

Global Employability Rank

1

Harvard University

US

1

2

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

US

6

3

Stanford University

US

7

4

University of Cambridge

UK

2

5

University of Oxford

UK

3

6

University of California, Berkeley

US

19

7

Princeton University

US

9

8

Yale University

US

5

9

Columbia University

US

8

10

California Institute of Technology

US

4

11

University of Chicago

US

54

12

University of Tokyo

Japan

12

13

University of California, Los Angeles

US

48

14

University of Michigan

US

130

15

Imperial College London

UK

15

16

University of Pennsylvania

US

73

17

Cornell University

US

38

18

Tsinghua University

China

59

19

ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Switzerland

37

20

University College London

UK

30

View the full results of the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2016


Students at these top universities feel that they benefit from the reputation of their alma mater.

Shivani says: “I think I'm benefited by Princeton’s alumni networks (I'm in a writer's group, for instance, with a few other Princetonians) and I'm sure that part of the university’s reputation comes from having connections in various areas.

“I also think that in applications for jobs or even in freelance journalism, people are more likely to respond to your cold pitches or to your applications or emails if you’re affiliated with a university that has a certain kind of reputation. For better or for worse, it becomes a kind of shorthand for a set of abilities.”

Dai Xilu, an American student at Tsinghua, also expects the prestige of his university to present him with international opportunities.

He says: “Tsinghua’s reputation opens many doors. As a student, we pursue future education or enter the job market knowing that universities or employers appreciate our professionalism, diligence and knowledge. As a law student, my personal experience has shown me that international law firms welcome Tsinghua students and are willing to invest in us as future leaders in the legal world.”

Others also mentioned employment opportunities as a key benefit of attending a prestigious university.

Lei Ann Watanuki at the University of Tokyo is hoping to use the reputation of the institution to secure a job in Japan. She says: “I intend to work in Japan upon graduation and because Japanese employers tend to highly value university rankings, I believe that being a graduate of this university will give me an advantage in terms of job opportunities."

Shubhi at the University of Toronto said: “I am very lucky to be able to carry Toronto’s reputation with me everywhere I go. Employers are often impressed by my school and all the different ways that it allows me to shine.”

And MJ agreed: “Going to the best school in Canada already paves the way for you as a student in terms of opportunities; the knowledge acquired at the University of Toronto goes a step further in helping us become who we fully can be as some doors have been opened for us in terms of opportunities.”

Nicolette confirms that certain employers are specifically interested in recruiting from the University of Pennsylvania. She says: “I've certainly benefited from the school’s brand of excellence, in terms of recruitment to jobs and graduate programmes; many top firms see UPenn as a target school, and look at Penn as a top academic institution.”

Most of the top-ranked universities in the World Reputation Ranking are also highly ranked in the Global Employability Survey, published in November 2015, which asked employers to vote for the universities from where they liked to recruit graduates.

Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and other top US universities were all in the top 10 of the employability ranking, while a number of universities in Asia and mainland Europe also feature in the top 20.

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