Stanford leapfrogs The University of Cambridge and Harvard in rankings

U.S. universities hold all three places for first time since 2004

The thirteenth edition of the QS World University Rankings, compiled by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, lists Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the world’s best university for a fifth consecutive year.

Stanford University rises above Harvard and the University of Cambridge into second place. In doing so, it means that the United States holds all of the top-three places for the first time since the inaugural rankings of 2004. Stanford University also achieves its highest-ever position.

Stanford’s success is the highlight of an excellent rankings performance from the United States’ higher education system.

Highlights include:
• California Institute of Technology remains fifth;
• The University of Chicago ranks 10th, meaning US institutions take half of the available top-ten places;
• Columbia University (20th) rises into the global top twenty;
• The University of Michigan rises seven places to 23rd;
• Northwestern University (26th) rises six places to break into the global top 30;
• Duke University (24th) rises five places;
• NYU jumps seven places to regain the top-50 place it lost last year;
• Rice University (90th) and Pennsylvania State University (95th) jump into the top 100;
• Princeton University leapfrogs the California Institute of Technology to rank as the US’s most-impactful research institution this year, according to QS’s citations per faculty metric;
• 154 US institutions are among the 916 universities ranked this year, eight more than in 2015’s instalment.

QS World University Rankings 2016/17: United States’ 20 Top Universities

The performance of Ivy League institutions remains broadly stable this year. Five of the Ivy League’s constituent universities rank in the same position as last year, while none swings by more than two places. All but Dartmouth College rank among the world’s top 50 once again. All are among the world’s top 200 universities for both QS’s faculty/student ratio metric and their citations per faculty indicator, underlying their status as world-class universities for both teaching and research.

Ben Sowter, Head of Research at the QS Intelligence Unit, said that all three of the world’s best universities were pioneers of the MOOCs revolution, as were Caltech and the University of Pennsylvania – also among the world’s top 20.

While acknowledging that the hype about MOOCs has somewhat waned, he cites this as an example of the sort of pedagogical innovation symptomatic of the world’s very best institutions.

However, he also points to the fact that all three of the US universities leading the rankings have endowments of more than $10 billion. He said that this year’s instalment of the QS World University Rankings, perhaps more than any yet, evidences the value of investment in higher education.

Sowter said: “This year’s rankings imply that levels of investment are determining who progresses and who regresses. Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding, whether from endowments or from the public purse, are rising. On the other hand, Western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their US and Asian counterparts. Innovation and investment remain inextricably linked to one another, and Stanford superseding Cambridge is perhaps the highest-profile example of this pattern.”

Elsewhere in the world, Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan enjoy noteworthy improvements, while the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy lose ground.

The full QS World University Rankings for 2016/17 can be found here.

Laura Ascione