University rankings

If you need to just browse through lists of universities, you can use university databases. One good search option for any university in the world is the website Braintrack. Another easy to use database can be found at the website of the International Association of Universities.

A different way of looking for a place to study and immediately assessing its quality is to look at university rankings. The following are among the most cited:

These are roughly the most popular guides and rankings. However, one needs to exercise caution when using them. Notice, how different universities might have a wildly different ranking, depending on who puts it together. Also, sometimes the ranking published by one institution can change dramatically from one year to another if the institution decides to change its methodology.

In order to see some of the problems in action, look at the ARWU ranking. It gives a lot of weight to publications in Nature and Science. This automatically gives an advantage to Anglo-Saxon researchers and universities. The ranking also strongly favours universities that have a Nobel laureate on the faculty or among alumni, even though this often has no bearing on the quality of teaching and research (especially given the fact that Nobel Prize winners are often decades after their most significant discoveries). Or look at the rankings compiled by QS and by The Times. Both strongly promote universities that are “international”, i.e. have a high share of international students and faculty. This is highly qeustionable as a quality criterion. It also gives advantage to British universities. They attract many students who want to study in English, not to mention that the British government actively pushes universities into accepting international students as a welcome source of finance.

In short, do use rankings, but with a pinch of salt. They are good for browsing through places and distinguishing the relatively good ones from the relatively bad ones. But don’t put too much faith in them.

Also, be careful about rankings that have no relation to quality of research and study at all. Media love to publish stories about a “new ranking”, even though some of these are just PR gimmicks either for the benefit of particular universities or to promote whoever publishes the ranking.

Regional rankings

The quality of European universities is assessed by the well-regarded CHE Excellence Ranking, which is published by the German newspaper Die Zeit.

There are also many rankings for universities in individual countries. You will find these in our country profiles.