One of the major motives of studying abroad could be prestige. Rankings are nowadays a useful tool to assess the recognition of an institution. Even though I do not consider such parameter as primary when choosing why and where to do a free mover semester, it can definitely be useful to give more insight about the various rankings for future free movers.

As you can see from the University Finder, rankings are most of the times included in the universities’ descriptions. Why? Because rankings can be as easy and as effective as a number to describe briefly various details about a single university or one of its departments. Ok, so now you see that university x is placed 54th in the world according to a certain ranking, or that university y is among the best 200 universities in the world in a specific field of study according to another ranking. Throwing numbers can be useful but, without a specific understanding on how these numbers are made, that information is most of the time vague.

I have personally selected a few rankings when writing the details about the universities that you can find on this website. The reason for that lies in many factors: first of all, those rankings are ones of the most recognized and trusted in the world, as you can see on the specific wikipedia page about the topic; second, they have an encompassing view over subjects and countries, which is useful if you want to understand how your university of choice is placed not only at a global level, but at a more specific geographical or technical level; third, they are complementary, as some focus more on prestige and employers’ reputation, while others on research output and publications; fourth, some other rankings are added because of their specificity in the field (as the one made by Financial Times for the business sector) and/or in the geographical region, or because of the outstanding classification of the institution in a peculiar ranking, such as the Webometrics one.

The main ones are:

QS World University Rankings is a ranking developed by Quacquarelli Symonds. It started in 2004 and is now the most consulted university ranking worldwide according to Alexa. It is a very comprehensive ranking system, spanning throughout 48 subjects, various geographical regions and other relevant indicators such as the employability and the strength of the institution. Universities are evaluated by a weighted average of the following indicators: academic reputation (40%); faculty/student ratio (20%); citations per faculty (20%); employer reputation (10%); international student ratio (5%); international faculty ratio (5%). So, as you can see, reputation accounts for 50% of the score, which indicates that QS World University Rankings is highly focused on reputation when creating its rankings.

Times Higher Education started publishing university rankings in 2004 along with QS. It includes more than 1500 institutions ranked globally, by specific subject or by impact, which is a new methodology based on sustainable development indicators. Ranking scores are based on 13 different performance indicators grouped into five categories. Those five categories have a specific weight for the computation of the final score of the universities: teaching (30%); research (30%); research influence (30%); international outlook (7,5%); innovation (2,5%). Hence, it is clear that the Times Higher Education World University Rankings reflects better the impact of purely academic indicators such as research and teaching ones.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities is an annual ranking published by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. It was issued for the first time in 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and now includes a global ranking and subject rankings divided in five fields: engineering, life sciences, medical sciences, natural sciences and social sciences. Each university is assigned a score that results from the weighted average of those indicators: research output (40%); quality of faculty (40%); quality of education (10%); per capita academic performance (10%). Quality of faculty and education is measured through achievements gained by staff and alumni of a specific institution, such as Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals. In this ranking research and faculty account for 80% of the score of listed universities, making it highly academic oriented like the Times Higher Education one.

Other additional ones that you can find in the descriptions are:

The Center for World University Rankings started publishing global academic ranking of universities in 2012. Its ranking list is made of 2000 universities selected out of 20.000 all over the world, making it the largest world universities ranking. Indicators used are: research performance (30%); quality of education (25%); alumni employment (25%); quality of faculty (10%).

The CWTS Leiden Ranking is an annual global university ranking compiled by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University that started in 2011. The analysis on listed universities is performed according to a sophisticated set of bibliometric indicators, which are more advanced and comprehensive compared to other university rankings. It is therefore based purely on research-related statistics, making it highly specific and reliable for the research field.

Eduniversal is a French ranking agency that started to list French programs in 1994. Nowadays, it is focused on the business school’s sector and hence holds a ranking by tiers (called “palmes’ leagues”) of the best 1000 business schools in the world. Tiers are determined by the international influence of selected business schools. Deans of the listed business schools are then asked to express a vote on the other listed business schools of their region, that gives birth to a geographical rank by tier. It is a very qualitative and peer made ranking, useful to assess the international and regional recognition of a business school.

U.S. News & World Report issues a yearly ranking of global universities, which started in 2014. It is an interesting ranking because it uses a wide and fragmented range of indicators, which are: global research reputation (12,5%); regional research reputation (12,5%); number of publications that are among the 10% most cited (12,5%); percentage of total publications that are among the 10% most cited (10%); number of publications (10%); normalized citation impact (10%); international collaboration (10%); total citations (7,5%); number of highly cited papers that are among the top 1% most cited in their respective field (5%); percentage of total publications that are among the top 1% most highly cited papers (5%); published books (2,5%); organized conferences (2,5%). Hence, because of its mix of academic and reputation indicators, U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities Rankings can be considered as a compromise between highly academic-oriented rankings such as the ARWU’s one, and the more reputation-oriented ones such as the QS’s one.

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities is an initiative, started in 2004, of a research group belonging to the largest public research body in Spain. It is a very extensive ranking, counting more than 30000 higher education institutions. The ranking uses a mix of 4 indicators: visibility; excellence; transparency; presence. Visibility indicates the number of external networks (subnets) linking to the institution’s web pages and accounts for the 50% of the score of each university. Excellence is calculated as the number of papers amongst the top 10% most cited in each one of 26 selected disciplines and accounts for the 35% of the score of each university. Transparency stands for the number of citations from selected top 110 authors and accounts for the 10% of the score of each university. Presence is a proxy of the size, defined as the number of pages, of the main web domain of the institution and accounts for the 5% of the score of each university. So, Webometrics is a blend of web (55%) and academic (45%) indicators that can be useful as an integration of more prominent rankings, especially for its web component.

So, I hope that you now have a better understanding of what those rankings mean for your future study abroad destination. As said, they can only give a hint about potential selections and they should not be taken as the only metrics when choosing the best university for your free mover semester. Heart and curiosity are far better motivating forces than just a mere ranking. Go where your heart goes!