It’s cool to mention academic rankings nowadays, isn’t it?

One of the major reasons for studying abroad as a free mover could be prestige. Academic rankings are an established reality in our times and, hence, a useful tool to assess the level of international recognition of a higher education institution. Even though I do not consider such parameters to be primary when choosing why and where to do a study abroad experience, it can definitely be helpful to you as a prospective free mover.

As you can see from the universities’ pages on wearefreemovers, their positioning throughout several international rankings is provided. Why? Because rankings can be as easy and as effective as a number to summarize the “level” of a university, or of 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.

Is it that easy? Of course not. Throwing numbers can be useful, but without a specific understanding of how these numbers are made, that information is most of the time vague. You have to understand how rankings are made, and in this post, you can find this information.

I have personally selected a few rankings to evaluate and compare the universities that you can find on this website. Why? Because of a few crucial factors:

First of all, those rankings are among the most recognized and trusted in the world, as you can see on the specific Wikipedia page on 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 on a global level but even on a more specific geographical or academic field level;

Third, they are complementary, as some focus more on prestige and employers’ reputation, while others focus on research output and publications;

Fourth, some other rankings are added because of their specificity, such as the one made by Eduniversal for the business sector or the Webometrics one, which classifies institutions by their popularity on the web.

Rankings available on wearefreemovers

QS World University Rankings

QS World University Rankings is a ranking developed by Quacquarelli Symonds. Born in 2004, it is now the most consulted university ranking worldwide according to Alexa. It has a very comprehensive ranking system, spanning 48 subjects, various geographical regions, and other relevant variables, such as alumni employability.

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 World University Rankings

Times Higher Education started publishing university rankings in 2004, along with QS. They include 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 contingent on 13 different performance indicators, grouped into five categories.

Those five categories have a specific weight on the computation of the participating universities’ ranking score: 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 has a strong academic character, given by its pure blend of academic indicators.

Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

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 it now includes a global ranking, along with subject rankings divided into 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 the following 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 indicators account for 80% of the score of listed universities, making it highly academic-oriented, such as the Times Higher Education one.

Center for World University Rankings (CWUR)

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

CWTS Leiden Ranking

Born in 2011, CWTS Leiden Ranking is an annual global university ranking compiled by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. The analysis of 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 to the research field.


Eduniversal is a French ranking agency that started to list French programs in 1994. Nowadays, it is focused on the business schools sector. Its ranking includes some of the best 1000 business schools in the world and is divided into tiers called “palmes’ leagues”.

Tiers are drawn from the international influence of the selected business schools. The deans of the institutions are then asked to express a vote on the other listed business schools of their region, which gives birth to a geographical rank by tier. It is a very qualitative and peer evaluation-oriented ranking, useful to assess the international and regional recognition of business schools.

Financial Times Rankings

Financial Times, the eminent economic and business British newspaper, has its own useful lists of ranked business schools and programs. If you are interested in joining a top-tier business school, you should definitely take a look at its rankings, which encompass a wide variety of pre- and post-experience programs and institutions. We are only interested in three of them that could be helpful to finance and business free mover students: FT Masters in Finance pre-experience Ranking, FT Masters in Management pre-experience Ranking, and FT European Business Schools Ranking.

Both the Masters in Finance and the Masters in Management ranking are constructed as follows: a career component (64%) and a faculty component (36%). The career component is made of: Weighted salary of graduates (20%), Salary increase after graduation (10%), International work mobility (8%), Career progress (6%), Program value for money (5%), Alumni satisfaction (5%), Career service effectiveness (5%) and Employment rate at three months (5%). Next, the faculty component includes: International course experience (8%), Percentage of faculty with a doctoral degree (6%), Percentage of international faculty (5%), Percentage of international students (5%), Percentage of female faculty (5%), Percentage of female students (5%), Percentage of international board members (1%) and Percentage of women on board (1%).

Then, the FT European Business Schools Ranking is composed of four different indicators: MBA program ranking (25%), EMBA program ranking (25%), Masters in Management program ranking (25%), and Executive Education program ranking (25%).

Hence, Financial Times Rankings are very useful and straight on-point, making them perfect to prospective finance and business free mover students, especially if they are interested in joining a reputable European business school.

U.S. News & World Report's Best Global Universities Rankings

U.S. News & World Report issues a yearly ranking of global universities, that started in 2014. It is an interesting ranking since it uses a wide and fragmented range of indicators, as here listed: global research reputation (12,5%); regional research reputation (12,5%); number of publications among the 10% most cited (12,5%); percentage of total publications 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 among the top 1% most cited in their respective field (5%); percentage of total publications 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 a highly academic-oriented ranking, such as the ARWU’s, and a more reputation-oriented one, such as the QS’s.


The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities is an initiative started in 2004 by a research group belonging to the largest public research body in Spain. It is a very extensive ranking, counting more than 30.000 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 50% of the total 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 35% of the total score of each university.

Transparency stands for the number of citations from selected top 110 authors and accounts for 10% of the total 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 5% of the total score of each university.

So, Webometrics is a blend of web (55%) and academic (45%) indicators, that can be useful as an integration to more classic rankings, thanks to its specific focus on the web.