The best universities

Here are the 500 best academic universities in the world, according to Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The list starts: Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge, Berkeley, MIT, Cal Tech, Princeton, Oxford, Columbia, Chicago.

NormBlog links to the regional breakdown. Of the top 20, 17 are U.S., two British and one Japanese, points out Nelson Ascher.

Only 35 countries have at least one university among the 500 (more exactly 502) best.

While Israel (population around 6 millions or 0.1% of mankind) has 7 of these, all the Islamic countries together (maybe 1/5 of mankind) have not a single one.

The methodology for the rankings favors universities with prize-winning scientists.

About Joanne


  1. What makes numbers look good?

    The US is 10th of industrialized nation in high school diploma ranking, but first in hosting foreign students. Is our success really reflective of our public education? The US also has the highest dropout rate of student seeking their first college degree. Are we good at making the numbers or good at arranging them?

  2. Why can’t the higher education system be the best in the world if the K-12 system sucks? The two are distinct.

    If anything, I’d say it was the difference between U.S. higher education and U.S. K-12 that account for the superiority of the former and depressing state of the latter.

    The higher ed system is a much more competitive environment the K-12. Colleges compete for the best students, the better to get world-class post-grads, and big-name profs, the better to attract world-class students.

    In the K-12 system competition is talked-down at every opportunity and is portrayed as inherently wrong and evil.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    As Joan noted, from the site’s own description of methodology this seems to be almost entirely a ranking of research reputations (mainly science and math research at that), with little or no attempt made to make a serious estimate of the quality of undergraduate teaching. It is likely that a significant number of the faculty members responsible for the high rankings of US universities are foreign-born and were not themselves educated in the US until college or graduate school, if that.

    My anecdotal observation as a former college professor is that the inadequate preparation of most high-school students cannot help but exert a long-term drag on the quality of undergraduate education. But that effect would not show up in something like the Shanghai study for a very long time, if ever.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    Apologies to Joanne for referring to her as “Joan”. I hope Preview will be working soon. 😉

  5. Indeed, the reputation of the select American *graduate* schools is outstanding. (The study may exaggerate this effect because some schools “collect” Nobel winners with promises of not having to teach and good funding…) The American model of funding a few universities very well (okay, different universities depending upon the field) produces exceptional research universities.

    I’ve always found it interesting that the percentage of foreign students in the graduate programs is often extremely high. Certainly was at the University of Toronto.

    (This in the sciences, mind.)