Trends in world university rankings 2020 |

by Lindsay Wong

The Times Higher Education (THE) and QS World University Rankings have released their 2020 rankings, which are released every year to indicate multiple factors among the thousands of universities in over 90 countries, reflecting the changes in education quality and student life. Rankings are based on tens of thousands of expert opinions and surveys conducted and measured via multiple factors. These rankings provide a guideline to many parents and students who utilise it to choose schools, but they don’t necessarily reflect the ideal schools that are suitable for the student.


THE mainly judges research-intensive universities based on institutions’ core missions. Its performance indicators are: teaching (learning environment), research (volume, income, reputation), citations (research influence), international outlook (staff, students, research, and industry income (knowledge transfer).

Similarly, QS primarily uses six factors that they believe effectively entails a university’s performance, which are: academic reputation (the biggest contributor), employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty and international faculty/student ratio. 


Times Higher Education:

2019 → 2020UniversityLocation
1 = 1University of Oxford United Kingdom
5 → 2California Institute of Technology (Caltech)United States
2 → 3University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
3 → 4Stanford UniversityUnited Kingdom
4 → 5Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)United States
7 → 6Princeton University United States
6 → 7Harvard University United States
8 = 8Yale UniversityUnited States
10 → 9University of ChicagoUnited States
9 → 10Imperial College London United Kingdom

QS World University Rankings:

R2019 → 2020UniversityLocation
1 = 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)United States
2 = 2Stanford UniversityUnited States
3 = 3Harvard UniversityUnited States
5 → 4University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
4 → 5California Institute of Technology (Caltech)United States
7 → 6ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of TechnologySwitzerland
6 → 7University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
10 → 8University College LondonUnited Kingdom
8 → 9Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom
9 → 10University of ChicagoUnited States

Trends in the Top 10

While THE and QS’ methodologies of measuring rankings differ, the overall results and trends are similar.

In 2020, British universities comparatively did not perform as well in the league table as previous years. This is partially due to a funding gap and Brexit looming in the future. Although Oxford still tops THE’s list for its fourth consecutive year, other British universities have dropped in ranking. According to THE analysis, there has been a consistent downward trend for British universities in the past five years. Furthermore, the UK and US as well have had a weaker score in QS’ international student ratio, which contributed to the reasons why their universities have fallen in rank.

Worldwide Trends

The ranks of universities in other countries have improved. Swiss, Chinese and Australian universities have made considerable progress in the league table because of extra research spending, strong scores in the research sector, and an increased emphasis on internationalism.

ETH Zurich ranks highly at #13 (THE) and #6 (QS), while France’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne is #38 (THE) and #18 (QS) on the list. Australia and Canada both have several universities in the top 50 list.

Asian universities also rank highly, notably Tsinghua (#23 on THE, #16 on QS), NUS (#25 on THE, #11 on QS), University of Tokyo (#36 on THE, #22 on QS) and University of Hong Kong (#35 on THE, #25 on QS).

With the effects of globalisation and how vital having a global mindset is in the 21st century, universities possessing an international outlook is more important than ever. This aspect is where the UK and US have weakened but other countries have improved. In the case of Australia, their abilities consistently deliver high quality teaching, resulting in better overall academic performance.