Elite universities widen gap between them and rest of world

The world’s top universities have strengthened their positions as global leaders, according to a survey.

The top six universities, as ranked by the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, have for the third year, since the ranking was established in 2011, drawn away from the rest of the world’s institutions.

All six are based in the UK or US. Ivy league college Harvard University was ranked first, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of California (Berkeley) and Stanford University.

The institutions have been ranked as pack-leading by a significant margin since the inaugural 2010-2011 rating and this year sees them draw further ahead than ever. The sixth-placed university, Stanford, garnered a 70.6 per cent ranking while the next best-placed ranking, Princeton, gained just a 36.2 per cent rating.

The rankings are based purely on the subjective judgement of senior academics. Scholars provided 15 or fewer institutions which they believed to be world-leading, based on their experiences, in their particular discipline. All of the top six universities, apart from MIT, have law schools or faculties.

Scores are then calculated by the number of times an institution is cited by respondents as being the best. Harvard University was ranked by the most people as being the leader in their field. All other rankings were then established by using Harvard’s endorsements as a ranking. The next highest rated university, MIT, received 87.6 per cent of the rankings that Harvard received.

The results combine nearly 17,000 responses from 144 countries. One third of respondents are from North America, 17 per cent hail from Western Europe, 12 per cent from East Asia, 10 per cent from Oceania, 6 per cent from Eastern Europe and 5 per cent from both South America and the Middle East.

The rankings contrast with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings which combine subjective data with objective performance indicators. The top six institutions ranked by reputation are all within the top ten in the combined ranking although none takes the top spot.

A YouGov survey recently revealed the scale of UK university students’ debt (6 February 2013).