Rigorous, meticulous, and thorough, the CWTS Leiden World Rankings situates its emphasis primarily on scientific merit measured through citation impact and research excellence. Their intricate bibliometric methodology, while displaying an eagerness to discount publications when the need arises, allows for the utter dominance of the table by US Universities. Indeed, the first 18 institutions in the top tier are from the United States.
As a compilation of the leading 500 universities around the world, the Leiden Ranking quantifies the published research output as per the Web of Science database. Methodologically, research excellence is measured by a number of performance indicators. First, the number of paper citations received by each university as a whole, as well as the percentage of those papers featured in the highest echelon of respected journals and publications. This unique way of measuring research impact, particularly though the normalization of data, allows for a general benchmarking of institutional excellence against a global average. The CWUR encourages the data be read effectively and not merely browsed casually, as the results yielded will display evidence of both collaboration and internationalization.
The Leiden 2014 top 10 for the USA is as follows, with international position stated in brackets (if only to reinforce the scale of the US’ dominance):
1 (1) Rockefeller University
2 (2) MIT
3 (3) Harvard University
4 (4) University of California Berkeley
5 (5) Stanford University
6 (6) California Institute of Technology
7 (7) Princeton University
8 (8) University of California – Santa Barbara
9 (9) University of California – San Francisco
10 (10) Yale University
Prospective students and faculty will likely be surprised at the innocuous presence of Rockefeller University on the top spot. With the highest average number of frequently cited papers, Rockefeller actually produces a comparatively small number of publications overall, coming in around 300th place when subtracting the balancing mechanism inherent in the methodology. Coming out on top with the greatest quantity of citations is Harvard, which usually figures first place in most world rankings, and boasts more than double the number of absolute publications than the second-best in terms of quantity, Stanford University. Despite tweaking the metrics, the team behind the Leiden rankings has still not found a way to accurately reflect research impact in real terms, as much citation data is often distorted by the occasional interlinking of scientists who work closely together and cite each other’s work frequently.
Yet it would be wrong to detract from Rockefeller University’s achievement. This private university based in New York managed to outstrip 749 other global universities, and its result is even more impressive when considering that due to its reasonably small size it was not featured in previous year’s Leiden rankings. Finding itself placed above dynamic and prestigious institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, Rockefeller were responsible for the publication of a reputable 1033 papers the last three years, and of those almost a third were featured in the top ten percent of the most respected journals.
Despite obvious US domination, the Leiden Rankings retains its strict focus on citation impact, which, while it may not be of such importance to prospective undergraduate students, is still a key determiner of academic excellence around the world.