Research

U.S. Universities Come Out on Top in Country Ranking

In a country-by-country comparison of universities, the United States comes out on top when the criteria encompasses whole system strength, access, performance of leading institutions and the impact of national investment in higher education. The United Kingdom is second, Germany is third, Australia is fourth and Canada is fifth.

That's the ranking just released by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a UK-based company that specializes in study-abroad arrangements.

According to the company, the list is its effort to examine the strengths and weaknesses of a given country's higher education environment, with the intent of helping advise their clients and prospective customers on where to consider attending university or executive education programs. The evaluation assesses the university systems of 50 countries, 22 of which are European.

The methodology used by QS incorporates four categories of assessment:

  • System strength issues a score based on the number of schools a country has that are ranked 700 or above in QS' own "world university rankings," divided by the average position of those institutions in the list;
  • Access scores the number of full-time equivalent students at schools in the top 500 of the QS university rankings divided by the square root of the population, in order to derive an indication about the chances a resident student would have in gaining a place at the school;
  • Flagship institution examines the performance of the country’s leading institution within the global rankings; and
  • Economic context is intended to evaluate the impact of national investment in higher ed by comparing each country's financial situation to its performance in the international rankings. For each university in the top 100, the country earns seven points, for each in the next range, six points, and so on; this is then somehow factored against the gross domestic product for the country.

The final score for the United States was a full 100, against which all other countries were compared. The United States had 150 universities in the world university ranking; it drew a whopping 886,052 students from abroad; and it possesses what is considered the top university in the world by QS: MIT.

Other findings in the ranking include these:

  • Three of the world's top 10 countries for study abroad are in Asia: China in eighth place, South Korea in ninth place and Japan in tenth place;
  • In Latin America, the strongest country is Argentina, which placed 18th; and
  • Africa's best-performing country is South Africa, in the 30th spot.

"Assessing whole systems is not just about the top universities. If it were, Singapore would be much higher than it is and some European countries would be lower," said John O'Leary, a member of QS' executive board and editor for the UK-based Times Good University Guide, in a prepared statement. "The advantage of this ranking is that it looks at the quality and accessibility of higher education as a whole."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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