Six schools — Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, and University of California, Berkeley — have effectively cornered the market on being “the best” in academic research, according to the latest reputation survey from Times Higher Education.
The ranking, titled Top Universities by Reputation, compiled surveys from 17,554 academics that asked them to name up to 15 institutions they considered the best in teaching and (separately) research in their field.
Reputation surveys are famously controversial; public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell attacked them in a widely cited New Yorker piece. U.S. News, for example, asks college presidents and provosts to rate colleges on their overall academic stature. Several presidents have told me they simply don’t know enough about other colleges to do that.
The Times Higher Education survey might be more defensible, because it ask researchers to rate other schools in their own area of specialty.
Getting back to this year’s survey: Below the top tier of six, there is a fairly pronounced second tier. It comprises five more schools — Princeton, UCLA, Yale, CalTech and, surprise, the University of Tokyo — that all earn scores between roughly 30 and 40 on the 100-point reputation scale. None of them comes close to the top group, all of whom score over 70. But they are well above the next group, which we’ll get to shortly.
It’s an interesting outcome, because most people in U.S. higher education would probably place Princeton, Yale and CalTech in the same category as Harvard and Stanford in overall academic repute.
Next, we have six more schools with reputation scores between 20 and 29, a sort of third tier: Michigan, Imperial College London, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and the University of Toronto.
No one else on the 100-school list scores even as high as 20, which I take to mean that they earned fewer than one-fifth as many “best” citations as Harvard, whose reputation score is an even 100.
Two Ivy League Schools, Penn and Brown, are in that below-20 camp, and I don’t see Dartmouth anywhere on the list.
“It’s purely subjective opinion,” said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings. “But it’s a really good, quality sample.”
The methodological notes mention that the response rate rose this year, the second year of the reputation survey, even though the survey went to a completely different group of academicians than in the first year. That presumably means the researchers consider the survey a sound use of their time.
Baty notes the strong showing by Eastern universities in the reputation survey, a reminder that the great Asian institutions are now ranked among the world’s best. In addition to the University of Tokyo, the top 100 list includes Kyoto University (ranked 20th), National University of Singapore (23rd), Tsinghua University (30th), Peking University (38th) and the University of Hong Kong (39th) in the top 40 alone.
“The East Asian universities have had a pretty healthy rise,” Baty said. “And against this backdrop, we’ve seen some quite significant slips among some U.S. public institutions, and some U.K. institutions. I think there is a clear sense that some of the great Western institutions that have dominated the world for several decades are starting to lose a bit of their shine, whereas there seems to be a real excitement in the east.”
Stanford and Berkeley have swapped places this year near the top of the rankings — to Stanford’s favor, Baty said — “I think that’s quite symbolic.” Public flagships in Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina all have slipped, along with UC campuses in San Diego and Davis.