ApplyOrg | University Rankings: QS vs THE vs ARWU

University Rankings: QS vs THE vs ARWU

International students consider many factors when deciding on which university to choose for their study abroad. University ranking is one of the most important factors almost for all students. But, what are university rankings and what do they mean to a student? To what extent are they important for the final decision making?


University rankings rank universities. Multiple organizations are measuring and ranking universities. Three well-known organizations publishing rankings for universities are:

  • Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World Ranking of Universities
  • Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
  • Times Higher Education World University Rankings


The rankings published by these organizations are not consistent. The differences between each ranking stem from the fact each one is judging universities against different criteria. Here we look at how these rankings are calculated for each organization.


QS World Ranking of Universities

QS World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds. It evaluates university performance according to the following six metrics:


  • Academic reputation (40%) – a global survey of more than 94,000 academics
  • Citations per faculty (20%) – a ‘citation’ means a piece of research being referred to (cited) within another piece of research.
  • Student-to-faculty ratio (20%) - the number of academic staff employed relative to the number of students enrolled
  • Employer reputation (10%) – a global survey of close to 45,000 graduate employers
  • International faculty ratio (5%)
  • International student ratio (5%)





Times Higher Education World University Rankings

The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings is the only measurement evaluating universities for teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook. THE uses thirteen performance metrics to identify world-class universities. These evaluation metrics are then combined into the following five groups:


  • Teaching (30%)
  • Research (30%):  a reputation survey, and measures research income and research productivity
  • Research citations (30%)
  • International outlook (7.5%): measuring the proportion of international students and staff and international collaboration
  • Industry income (2.5%): measuring how much research income an institution earns from industry against the number of academic staff it employs.





Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

Originally known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong index, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) evaluates the university performance more heavily weighted to traditional measures of prestige in research, and the world’s most highly recognised researchers, predominantly in the science and engineering fields. This ranking was originally published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2003, making it the first global university ranking with multifarious indicators. However, since 2009, the ARWU rankings have been published and copyrighted by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy.

One primary reason for the significant popularity and influence of the ARWU rankings is that it applies a sound, stable, and transparent methodology for measuring the universiry ranking. Six indicators used by ARWU to rank universities are:


  • The number of alumni winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (10%)
  • The number of staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals (20%)
  • The number of highly cited researchers (20%)
  • The number of articles published in Nature and Science (20%)
  • The number of indexed articles (20%)
  • Per capita academic performance of an institution (10%).


More than 1,800 universities are ranked by ARWU and only the top 1,000 universities are publicly announced.



Which Ranking System to Use

It is quite difficult to just pick one ranking system as the measuring criteria are not consistent across them.

Here are some highlevel


  • Use ARWU ranking if you would like to identify universities that have a solid record of consistently producing high-quality research.
  • Use QS ranking to identify universities that are highly well-regarded by companies and other academics. Graduates of these universities are well-paid after their graduation.
  • Use THE ranking if you want to find top universities based on their research impact and their reputation. THE ranking system considers more variables/factors than QS and ARWU ranking systems.


Another important fact to consider is that both QS and THE rankings effectively measure how international a university is. In particular, QS ranking measure this by two factors: international student ration (5%) and international faculty ration (5%). International outlook (7.5%) is also used by THE to measure the international level of a university. Accordingly, both QS and THE are potentially better raking system for students aiming to study abroad.


One thing seems to be true about all these (especially QS and THE) rankings: reputation is the key factor determining the university rank. It is too important to note this key factor. While reputation can be important, it will not be certainly the only item that makes a university a good choice for a student. Quite often, a less well-known university can be a perfect match for a candidate considering all other factors such as tuition fees, scholarships, teaching quality, research facilities, income, location, and climate.