World Reputation Rankings 2021: 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

July 14, 2021

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 2021 rankings are based on a survey carried out between November 2020 and February 2021, which received a total of 10,963 responses from 128 countries.

The best-represented subject was clinical and health (accounting for 16.3 per cent of responses), followed by engineering (15.8 per cent), life sciences (14.9 per cent) and physical sciences (14.2 per cent). Also well represented were computer science (9.8 per cent), business and economics (8.2 per cent), arts and humanities (7.7 per cent) and social sciences (7.5 per cent). The rest of the responses came from psychology (2.8 per cent), education (2.2 per cent) and law (0.6 per cent).

However, to ensure that 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 39.1 per cent of responses hail from the Asia-Pacific region. The rest of the responses break down as follows: western Europe accounted for 24.3 per cent, North America for 21.7 per cent, eastern Europe for 6.3 per cent, Latin America for 4.2 per cent, the Middle East for 2.4 per cent and Africa for 2 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 will be used alongside 11 objective indicators to help create the THE World University Rankings 2022, which will be unveiled in September 2021.

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 is the one selected most often and it receives a score of 100. The scores for all other institutions in the table are expressed as a percentage of this institution's score. 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 will be listed for the second year, up from 100 in 2019. THE has decided to score 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 will be listed in groups of 10, in alphabetical order, while the institutions in the second half of the table will be 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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