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Using university rankings to help pick your university

When picking your university to study abroad, you may wonder how the university you are interested in studying at compares to other universities around the world. How much are you able to tell about the quality of the teaching or the standard of the facilities from reading about the university?

World university rankings are a valuable tool for students and university employees alike to gain insight into the performance of universities around the world across a variety of metrics. Students can learn more about teaching quality, research performance, performance of universities by subject area, and even the reputation of the university.

What do world university rankings measure

World university rankings are intended to show the relative strength of universities when compared to their international counterparts. They are compiled using a variety of factors, which differ between organisations. What is deemed to be important by one ranking might not be seen as being as important by another ranking, so don’t take one particular world university rankings as gospel.

The main metrics that are used to calculate a ranking score for a university usually include a combination of the following:

Teaching quality

This metric is intended to measure what it is like to be a student learning at the university and will be calculated using factors such as staff to student ratio, teaching reputation and doctorates awarded to academic staff ratio.

Research quality

This metric measures the quality of the research generated by the university, and is calculated by factors such as research reputation and research income.

International outlook

This metric measures how relevant the university is to international students as well as domestic students. Factors used to calculate this include the percentage of international students and percentage of international staff.


This metric measures how much effort the university puts into running as a sustainable entity, with an emphasis on both social and environmental factors.

Employment outcomes

This ranking metric measures how successful graduates of the university are at going on to finding employment, also measuring how much students go on to earn.

What global university rankings are available

There are several long established university rankings that you may use to compare the relative performance of universities worldwide.

Times Higher Education rankings

The Time Higher Education Rankings (THE) main areas of focus are research, impact and teaching quality. The main THE rankings include:

  • Global rankings
    The THE World University Rankings aims to provide a rankings list of the worlds universities, driven heavily by university research quality and teaching and research environment
  • Impact rankings
    The THE Impact Rankings exist to show how universities perform against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Teaching rankings
    THE Teaching rankings exist for universities who aren’t necessarily as research driven as other universities, and are produced for Japanese universities.

QS World University Rankings

The QS World University Rankings feature 1,500 institutions worldwide and employability and sustainability. The QS rankings include:

  • QS Rankings By Subject
    Universities are ranked by performance in 54 individual subject areas
  • QS Sustainability Rankings
    Universities are ranked by performance in environmental, social and governance (ESG) areas
  • QS Best Student Cities
    The best student cities from around the world are ranked by metrics such as opinion of current students and affordability
  • QS Business Masters Rankings
    Postgraduate courses in such as management and marketing are ranked worldwide based on metrics such as affordability, value for money and employability
  • QS Global MBA Rankings
    MBA programmes around the world are ranked by metrics including employability, return on investment the outcomes of alumni
  • QS International Trade Rankings
    Universities are ranked by those that best prepare students for careers in international trade, by metrics including teaching practices and how students are readied for employment

Best Global Universities Ranking

The Best Global Universities Rankings from U.S. News & World Report ranks over 2,000 institutions from the US and around the world based on their academic research and global reputation.

Academic Ranking of World Universities

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by ShanghaiRanking uses 6 indicators to rank universities around the world.

What domestic university rankings are available

If you are more interested in how the university you have chosen performs against others in the same country, you may also be interested in looking at domestic-only university rankings that purely focus on one country.

The Guardian University Guide, UK

The Guardian University Guide ranks UK universities by metrics including performance by subject area, student satisfaction and employability.

Forbes America’s Top Colleges, US

Forbes America’s Top Colleges list highlights 500 U.S. Colleges, ranked by the success of their students, the return on investment on the students fees and by the influence of their alumni.

How much importance should I place on university rankings

University rankings are useful tools with which to compare universities and to get an understanding of the strength of your chosen university in certain areas such as the quality of teaching and research, how strong they perform in certain subject areas and how well you are likely to be prepared for your future career while attending university.

We recommend that you do pay attention to how well your chosen university performs in rankings, but that you also take into consideration a variety of other factors when choosing your university and course, including location, accommodation options, study costs and the availability of your ideal course. This will help you to come to a well balanced decision on your ideal place to study.