Evaluating research, teaching and employability in 2014 QS World Rankings


As the frequency with which the QS Rankings appear increases, caustic criticism is guaranteed to be not far behind. Possibly the most recognisable set of university league tables across the world, the QS Rankings compare over 800 of the top universities out of a pool of 3,000 institutions. UK students in the process of finalising their prospective applications, and international students with an eye to making Britain their study abroad destination, can expect an analytical evaluation of the British university market, with the key issues of research, teaching, employability and international outlook placed under the microscope.

With UK institutions comprising three out of the top five world universities and an additional three making it into the top twenty, the QS Rankings aim to provide an objective assessment of the best regional, disciplinary, or overall destination for a diverse body of future students. To this end, QS Rankings takes the aforementioned key areas and, with a set of six performance indicators weighted accordingly, creates a multi-layered and multifunctional data set. With many of the determiners of quality based on a mix of education and industry surveys and hard data, it is ‘academic reputation’ that is the highest weighted indicator, with 40% of the assessment criteria earmarked for its interpretation. This rather subjective and speculative approach requires academics state the leading institution in their field, apart, of course, from their own. Despite an impressive 63,700 responses, it is hard not to see this practice as a potential hindrance to smaller universities who may have great research centers but not such a memorable brand.

For today’s vocation-conscious student QS would do well to bulk up its weighting on employer reputation, which totals at a mere 10%, and diversify its approach to gauging employment interest in graduates. Surely when asked, many of the 28,800 responders are more likely to mention one of the familiar institutions usually featured in the top spots, who in turn usually top the QS tables because employers are more likely to recognise them as a producer of talent.

This said, students can still discover a wide range of useful nuggets of information that would be hard or impossible to find in rival rankings. Students hoping to study in the UK will be pleased with this year’s table which shows British universities continuing to dominate focus in prestige, reputation, and post-study prospects. This year’s UK top 10, with overall position in the world rankings shown in brackets, is:

1 (2) University of Cambridge

= (2) Imperial College London

3 (5) University of Oxford

= (5) UCL (University College London)

5 (16) King’s College London

6 (17) University of Edinburgh

7 (29) University of Bristol

8 (30) The University of Manchester

9 (55) University of Glasgow

10 (61) The University of Warwick

The top ten is only a small section of the 70 UK universities featured in the 2014/15 table, but with the reputation of the QS Rankings themselves taking a nosedive down the rankings hierarchy, this accolade is a mixed blessing. Since parting ways with the Times Higher Education (THE). concern has been voiced over the methodology of QS. Yet, its ubiquity is the strongest card that the QS Rankings have, and their influence doesn’t seem in danger of being eclipsed for some time to come.