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Making Sense of the World University Rankings

World University Rankings for 2011-2012, released a few days ago will be getting a lot of eyeballs from Indian students planning to study abroad in the next academic year.

There are many reputed organisations that publish global University rankings every year. The QS World University Rankings and Shanghai University Rankings are among the most popular ranking providers.

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The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2011-2012, released a few days ago will be getting a lot of eyeballs from Indian students planning to study abroad in the next academic year. So this is a good time to contemplate on how useful these world university rankings really are while you decide on which university to study at.

As an Indian student considering going abroad to study, you will be conducting a lot of your own independent research and collecting information to help you decide where to study. The three most important decisions you need to make would naturally be:

  • What to study
  • Which country to go to
  • Which institution to study at

The last decision is generally influenced by various factors like the rankings of the universities and what people you know who have studied there say about them.

How important are the world university rankings really to you, and should you really go by them alone while deciding on the University?

There are many reputed organisations who publish world university rankings every year. They are all well-respected, trusted and influential. These rankings allow you to easily compare institutions across boundaries and are based on common indicators. Some of the top rankings published annually include:


  • The QS World University Rankings
  • The Times Higher Education World University Rankings,
  • Academic Ranking of World Universities
  • Shanghai University World Rankings


  • The Research Assessment Exercises (RAE), by the UK government
  • The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), which assesses undergraduate teaching
  • Times Good University Guide
  • Maclean’s University Rankings, Canada
  • U.S. News & World Report College and University rankings
  • The Princeton Review

Most of the world university rankings consider indicators such as:

  • Teaching
  • Student - teacher ratio
  • Research - volume, income and reputation
  • Citations - research influence
  • Industry income - innovation
  • International outlook

Now, most of these do matter to you and some of them not so much. For example, the student-teacher ratio which is usually not  more than 1:30 abroad will not be a key deciding factor for many of us who are used to being cramped into classrooms of 40 and 60 students right through our secondary and higher education in India! There are surely other factors that are more important- like the course fee, scholarships available, and reputation of the department in your area of interest.

Once you have checked the overall score these universities get in the world rankings, you need to look at the finer details. How does the department (related to your area of interest) perform at a national level? How much funding is available for research projects in the area of your interest? How good are the professors? Does the department’s faculty have good industry contacts to be able to open doors for you after graduation?

Most of this information is available online in the form of surveys and studies done by national and local bodies in the respective countries, but the best way to source it is by contacting past students who have studied at these institutions. It could be your relatives, friends, neighbours, or students on Facebook, Orkut and the like. It’s definitely worth checking the reviews and testimonials written by past students to know more about the universities you have shortlisted.

Quite frankly, the overall number of citations and Nobel Prize winners a university has generated does matter, but only to a certain extent. Factors like your scores, your personal funds and area of specialisation matter more while you decide on the college.

Have trouble short-listing universities?

Jenifer G Jenifer G,
Study abroad expert.
Given the number of options, it is a difficult task to short-list universities that you can apply to. Our advisors can help you out. So, request a call back today. Or call 1800 103 2581 / 1800 103 9634 (toll-free) today!