World University Rankings 2018: top performers in our teaching pillar

Universities are doing more to discover what students need and how best to deliver it, Linda Nordling finds as she surveys the top of the teaching pillar

September 5, 2017
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Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2018


In this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the top four universities ranked solely on our five “teaching environment” metrics remain unchanged from last year: the star quartet are the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Befittingly, MIT, which ranks higher on the teaching “pillar” than it does in the overall table (where it claims the fifth position overall), draws on technology to prime its offering. MITx MicroMasters, which allow students to complete part of their master’s degrees online, have “really taken off” since the programme’s launch in October 2016, says Martin Schmidt, the university’s provost. MIT is also using data analysis to investigate how people learn and is feeding the insights into teaching practice.

Just below the top four, Yale University has overtaken Princeton University to claim joint fifth place (shared with the UK’s University of Oxford). Like MIT, Yale does better in the teaching pillar than it does in the overall ranking (where it is 12th). Its president, Peter Salovey, has said that the institution’s top goal “is to be the research university most committed to teaching and learning”.

This year, much has happened to make that goal a reality for Yale. The Connecticut institution opened a new home for its Centre for Teaching and Learning in January. This $10 million (£7.7 million), 24,000 sq ft (2,230 sq m) facility has more than 20 rooms and areas with mobile furnishings that allow users to arrange them to suit their needs. The rooms can accommodate large gatherings as well as one-to-one meetings and small tutorials; and they can be used for anything from workshops, training sessions and consultations to seminars, assessments and other teaching support activities.

“The goal is to change the culture of how teaching is prioritised and supported within the university,” says Scott Strobel, the university’s deputy provost for teaching and learning.

Yale’s aim is for teaching to be public and collaborative, he explains. One way the university does this is through its “Faculty Bulldog Days” – a week in every semester when lecturers get the opportunity to open their classroom doors to colleagues.

“It’s a chance for faculty to experience each other’s courses and engage in conversations across departments and disciplines, not just about their research, but also about their pedagogy,” Strobel says. Hundreds of Yale faculty have participated in this programme to date, he points out.

Many Asian universities do better in the teaching pillar than they do in the overall world rankings. China’s Peking University is the top Asian institution in the list, occupying 11th place (joint 27th in the overall rankings). Tsinghua University, another Chinese institution, claims 16th place (30th overall), while the University of Tokyo in Japan sits just below it in 17th (46th overall). Russia’s Lomonosov Moscow State University occupies 26th place, despite ranking 194th overall. Kyoto University in Japan and Seoul National University in South Korea also do well in the teaching pillar, claiming joint 29th and 31st place, respectively.

But one of this year’s fastest Asian climbers is the National University of Singapore, which shares 18th place (with the University of California, Berkeley) for its teaching performance (up from 24th last year).

The university’s ambition to produce “future-ready graduates” is paying off, says Tan Chorh-Chuan, president of the NUS. He says that the university is investing in programmes to develop undergraduates’ critical thinking skills and academic foundations, while also nurturing personal qualities such as creativity, interpersonal skills and entrepreneurship.

The NUS offers its students a strong international flavour: more than 80 per cent of its undergraduates go abroad for part of their education. Over the past two years, the university has also scaled up its engagement with employers. It has introduced cooperative education programmes that give students the chance to do extensive internships in companies in their third and fourth years. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the Faculty of Engineering and the NUS Business School are among the divisions of the university that have revamped their curriculum to respond to industry needs and to allow students more flexibility to pursue internships and other learning opportunities.

Meanwhile, the NUS Overseas Colleges programme – an entrepreneurship educational programme that allows students to intern in global technology hubs such as Shanghai or Silicon Valley – also recently expanded into two new locations: Lausanne in Switzerland and Munich in Germany. The programme has spawned more than 250 start-ups founded by its students and alumni.

Like the NUS, another institution that has improved its teaching score this year – North Carolina’s Duke University in the US, which has risen to joint 14th place from 18th – has been putting an emphasis on connecting its academic offerings to real-world settings, according to Stephen Nowicki, Duke’s dean and vice-provost for undergraduate education. For example, DukeEngage, an immersive summer service experience, allows students to provide meaningful assistance to communities in the US as well as abroad. Another programme, Bass Connections, teams undergraduates, postgraduates and faculty together to address real-life challenges under themes such as global health and energy.

Duke has also introduced academic tracks that students can follow only if they have certain non-academic experiences, such as internships and entrepreneurial or civic engagement activities, Nowicki adds. “These programmes, including our public policy and global health majors, and certificate programmes in ethics and innovation and entrepreneurship, have been especially popular among our students.” 


Teaching pillar

Rank in pillar

Position in World University Rankings 

Institution

Country/region

Pillar score

1

=3

California Institute of Technology

United States

90.3

2

=3

Stanford University

United States

89.1

3

2

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

87.8

4

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States

87.3

=5

1

University of Oxford

United Kingdom

86.7

=5

12

Yale University

United States

86.7

7

7

Princeton University

United States

85.7

8

9

University of Chicago

United States

85.3

9

6

Harvard University

United States

84.2

10

=10

University of Pennsylvania

United States

83.7

11

=27

Peking University

China

83.0

12

14

Columbia University

United States

82.2

13

8

Imperial College London

United Kingdom

81.7

=14

15

University of California, Los Angeles

United States

80.7

=14

17

Duke University

United States

80.7

16

30

Tsinghua University

China

80.2

17

46

University of Tokyo

Japan

79.5

=18

18

University of California, Berkeley

United States

77.4

=18

=22

National University of Singapore

Singapore

77.4

20

21

University of Michigan

United States

77.2

21

=10

ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Switzerland

76.4

22

19

Cornell University

United States

76.2

23

13

Johns Hopkins University

United States

76.1

24

=22

University of Toronto

Canada

74.6

25

16

University College London

United Kingdom

74.4

26

194

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Russian Federation

74.2

27

=27

New York University

United States

73.7

28

20

Northwestern University

United States

72.6

=29

=74

Kyoto University

Japan

71.8

=29

=25

London School of Economics and Political Science

United Kingdom

71.8

31

=74

Seoul National University

South Korea

69.3

32

40

University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

68.8

33

43

University of Wisconsin-Madison

United States

68.4

34

=25

University of Washington

United States

67.9

35

=27

University of Edinburgh

United Kingdom

66.8

=36

24

Carnegie Mellon University

United States

65.8

=36

37

University of Illinois at Urbana‑Champaign

United States

65.8

38

=34

LMU Munich

Germany

65.4

39

32

University of Melbourne

Australia

64.9

40

=50

Brown University

United States

63.8

41

45

Heidelberg University

Germany

63.6

42

42

McGill University

Canada

63.4

43

31

University of California, San Diego

United States

62.9

44

60

Purdue University

United States

62.3

45

62

Humboldt University of Berlin

Germany

61.9

46

=34

University of British Columbia

Canada

61.8

=47

=54

University of California, Davis

United States

60.9

=47

49

University of Texas at Austin

United States

60.9

49

=50

Washington University in St Louis

United States

60.8

50

41

Technical University of Munich

Germany

60.3


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