from The Water's Edge

U.S. Universities Dominate Reputation Rankings

Harvard University t-shirts on display in Harvard Square in Cambridge (Jessica Rinaldi/ Courtesy Reuters).

March 5, 2013

Harvard University t-shirts on display in Harvard Square in Cambridge (Jessica Rinaldi/ Courtesy Reuters).
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

The latest rankings are out! No, not the ones claiming that Gonzaga has the best men’s basketball team in the land. Rather, the Times Higher Education (THE) 2013 World Reputation Rankings for colleges and universities. They came out this week. As was the case with the THE World University Rankings that came out last October, the reputational rankings make it clear that when it comes to post-secondary education, “America rocks!”

The difference between THE’s world reputation rankings and its university rankings is that the reputational rankings don’t rely on any objective data. They simply reflect what senior academics think are the world’s best universities. So yes, the rankings may say more about the strength of a university’s “brand” than the actual quality of its faculty and students.

That said, here are the top twenty-five universities by reputation:

Source: Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2013

When looking at the top one hundred universities overall, forty-three are American. That’s down from last year’s survey. (Sorry, University of Arizona). The reputational rankings actually underestimate just how good U.S. universities are.  The rankings don’t include America’s superb liberal arts colleges like Oberlin and Swarthmore. No other country can match their abundance and quality.

Overall, English-speaking countries account for nearly two-thirds of the top one hundred universities. Non-English speaking countries account for just thirty-eight of the top one hundred and just nine of the top fifty.

Source: Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2013

Of course, reputational rankings are a snapshot of where things stand today. The more interesting question is where they are likely to stand tomorrow. There have been frequent predictions that Asian, and particularly Chinese, universities will soon dominate higher education because Asian governments are investing heavily in education and Western (and especially American) governments are not. While Asian universities generally fared better than they did in 2012, the two Chinese universities on the list, Tsinghua University and Peking University, dropped five and seven spots respectively.  That probably reflects the randomness inherent in the survey rather than a real trend.  But in all, Chinese universities have a long way to go to impress their counterparts elsewhere around the world.

Of course not everyone organizes colleges by countries. Some of us organize them by athletic conference. On that score the Ivy League is the runaway winner. Seven of its eight schools made the top hundred (sorry, Dartmouth), and six of those seven (sorry, Brown) made the top twenty.  The next best showing by an athletic conference was the Big Ten, which had nine of its twelve schools—the Big Ten values its brand over accuracy—land in the top hundred, led by my favorite university, the University of Michigan. Five PAC-12 schools made the top one hundred, as did one-third of the twelve schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Southeastern Conference pulled up the rear among the major college conferences landing just two of its member schools in the top one hundred.  Apparently the SEC’s prowess in football has yet to impress academics around the globe.