THE World Reputation Rankings 2020: methodology

Our Academic Reputation Survey forms the foundation for these rankings, meaning that they are built on the insights of a representative sample of global experts

October 26, 2020

Browse the THE World Reputation Rankings 2020 results


The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings are created using the world’s largest invitation-only academic opinion survey – a unique piece of research.

The Academic Reputation Survey, available in 14 languages, uses United Nations data as a guide to ensure that the response coverage is as representative of world scholarship as possible. It is also evenly spread across academic disciplines.

The questionnaire, which is administered on behalf of THE by Elsevier, targets only experienced, published scholars, who offer their views on excellence in research and teaching within their disciplines and at institutions with which they are familiar.

The 2020 rankings are based on a survey carried out between November 2019 and February 2020, which received a total of 11,004 responses from 132 countries.

The best represented subject was engineering (accounting for 16.9 per cent of responses), followed by physical sciences (15.2 per cent). Also well represented were life sciences (11.5 per cent), clinical and health (11 per cent), business and economics (10.6 per cent), arts and humanities (10.4 per cent) and social sciences (9.9 per cent). The rest of the responses came from computer science (7.3 per cent), education (2.9 per cent), psychology (2.8 per cent) and law (1.5 per cent).

However, to ensure the ranking is representative of the global distribution of scholars, THE’s data team rebalanced the weights to a fixed benchmark. These were as follows: physical sciences (14.6 per cent), clinical and health (14.5 per cent), life sciences (13.4 per cent), business and economics (13.1 per cent), engineering (12.7 per cent), arts and humanities (12.5 per cent), social sciences (8.9 per cent), computer science (4.2 per cent), education (2.6 per cent), psychology (2.6 per cent) and law (0.9 per cent).

We have also maintained a fair distribution of survey responses across the regions. A total of 39 per cent of responses hail from the Asia-Pacific region. The rest of the responses break down as follows: western Europe accounted for 24 per cent, North America for 19 per cent, eastern Europe for 10 per cent, Latin America for 5 per cent, Africa for 2 per cent and the Middle East for 1 per cent. Where countries were over- or under-represented, THE’s data team weighted the responses to more closely reflect the actual geographical distribution of scholars based on UN data.

In the survey, scholars are questioned at the level of their specific subject discipline. They are not asked to create a ranking themselves or to list a large range of institutions; they only name at most 15 universities that they believe are the best in each category (research and teaching).

The survey data were used alongside 11 objective indicators to help create the THE World University Rankings 2021, which were unveiled in September.

The reputation table ranks institutions according to an overall measure of their esteem that combines data on their reputation for research and teaching.

The two scores are combined at a ratio of 2:1, giving more weight to research because our expert advisers have suggested that there is greater confidence in respondents’ ability to make accurate judgements about research quality.

The scores are based on the number of times that an institution is cited by respondents as being one of the best in their field. The number one institution, Harvard University, was the one selected most often. The scores for all other institutions in the table are expressed as a percentage of Harvard’s.

For example, the University of Oxford received 74 per cent of the number of nominations that Harvard gained, giving it a score of 74 against Harvard’s 100. This scoring system, which differs from that used in the THE World University Rankings, is intended to give a clearer and more meaningful perspective on the reputation data in isolation.

The top 200 universities by reputation are listed for the first time, up from 100 in previous years. However, THE has decided to rank only the top 50 because the differentials between institutions after that point become narrow. The institutions that make up the second quarter of the table are listed in groups of 10, in alphabetical order, while the institutions in the second half of the table are listed in groups of 25. The number in each group may vary owing to some institutions at the thresholds having the same scores.

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