Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

STEM-intensive universities rise up world rankings

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The latest QS World University Rankings reveal that universities with a focus on STEM subjects have risen up the ranks while, overall, UK universities have continued to slide down the table.

Education analyst firm QS Quacquarelli Symonds has released the latest edition of its QS World University Rankings, which gathers opinion from over 75,000 academics and 40,000 employers, as well as analysing over 12m papers and 75m citations, to measure the impact of the research produced.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has yet again been named the world’s leading university out of almost 1,000 institutions. Technology-focused universities have been this year’s highest risers.

“Four of the world's top universities for QS's Citations per Faculty indicator are STEM-intensive universities, highlighting that the world's most research-intensive universities are likely to be STEM-focused ones,” highlights Ben Sowter, head of research at QS. “In the US, MIT retains the global number one position for the sixth consecutive year and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) rises to fourth, usurping the more comprehensive University of Cambridge.

“Across the world, we see STEM-intensive universities rising,” he continues. “The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology rises to its all-time high (41), as does its compatriot, Pohang University of Science and Technology (71). Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (30) has also gained ground on the national leader, Hong Kong University (26).”

Sowter goes on to note that in some cases STEM-focused universities are overtaking their country’s most renowned institutes.

“Nanyang Technological University in Singapore rises to eleventh, surpassing its compatriot National University of Singapore for the first time (15),” he highlights. “This trend is visible in Europe, too, where in the Netherlands Delft University of Technology reaches its highest position since 2005 (54), outranking the University of Amsterdam at 58.”

However, this year’s rankings hold bad news for UK academia in general, as the majority of UK higher-education institutions have declined further still on last year’s regressive performance, with 51 out of 76 ranked UK institutions seeing their record drop. Many of the UK’s technology-focused universities have continued to rank well, though, with University College London (UCL) retaining seventh place and Imperial College London rising one place to eighth.

According to QS, the UK’s relative performance is deteriorating for two primary reasons: falls in relative research performance and academic reputation.

“Though the temptation may be to attribute the UK’s second year of struggle to Brexit, we would warn against doing so. Much of the data we collect for these tables has been collected over a five-year period and the first year of post-Brexit internationalisation scores suggests that there has, thus far, been a minimal impact on international student and faculty rates at UK institutions,” notes Sowter.

“Of greater importance, we believe, is the continued strain on university resources, which appears to be having a deleterious impact on not just research, but also the capacity to deliver world-class teaching. Also of greater significance than Brexit is the simple and unavoidable truth that these rankings are a relative exercise, and the rest of the world is becoming increasingly competitive.”

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