Bloomberg News

Harvard Loses Top World University Ranking for First Time

October 06, 2011

(Updates with Times Higher comment in 15th paragraph.)

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Harvard University lost its top spot for the first time in eight years in a global ranking of higher education institutions, being overtaken by the California Institute of Technology.

Another California institution, Stanford University, tied with Harvard for second spot in the annual table compiled by the London-based Times Higher Education, with data supplied by Thomson Reuters Corp. The University of Oxford climbed to fourth from sixth last year, beating the University of Cambridge at sixth. Princeton University came fifth.

Harvard, the world’s richest university, has topped the rankings since they were started in 2004. The U.S. institution was beaten by Cambridge last month in a separate poll by higher education information provider QS. A 16 percent increase in research funding for Caltech helped it leapfrog Harvard in the Times Higher table, said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings.

“The difference between Harvard and Caltech last year was minuscule,” Baty said in a telephone interview. “What’s happened this year is Caltech has seen a significant increase in its research income. A 16 percent increase, it’s quite significant in tipping the balance over in its favor. Harvard had an increase as well, but it was more in line with sector averages.”

The rankings are based on a survey that gauges universities across five areas, including industry income, teaching, citations, research and international outlook. More than 17,500 academics were surveyed and 50 million citations analyzed and compared with the world average for this year’s rankings.

Funding Levels

“It doesn’t seem as if financial crisis has really damaged Harvard,” said Baty. “It still wins on the teaching indicator. Once you factor in research impact and universities’ research activities, Caltech is slightly better.”

U.S. and U.K. universities dominated the list, with 75 American schools in the top 200. Seven of the top 10 schools were in the U.S., with the rest in Britain, Imperial College London taking eighth place.

“The real issue that’s starting to show is that the great public American universities do seem to be suffering, whereas the private universities in America have managed to maintain or protect their funding levels a bit more,” Baty said.

Premier U.S. universities that depend on public funding, including Californian universities at Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara, had slipped on the list compared with a year ago, Baty said.

‘Steadfast Donors’

“Caltech is fortunate to have steadfast donors and partners whose support gives Caltech the ability to invest in new ideas long before they would be eligible for public funding opportunities,” Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau, president of Caltech, said in an e-mailed statement. “This public-private partnership model enables our research funds to go further.”

Oxford beat Cambridge, the U.K.’s richest university, after a change in the survey’s methodology put arts, humanities and social sciences on an equal footing with science, Baty said.

“At places like Oxford, where there’s a slightly heavier focus on humanities and social sciences than there is at Cambridge, that levelling of the playing field has helped,” he said.

The U.K. had the most number of universities in the top 200 after the U.S., with 32.

U.K. Reforms

While the U.K. did “exceptionally well,” the “biggest issue is that we’re entering into a very uncertain period of major reform, which will have unforeseen consequences,” Baty said. Higher tuition fee, spending cuts and new visa restrictions on international students restricting university income will affect U.K. rankings from 2012, he said.

“The U.K. is blessed with some truly brilliant universities, more brilliant than the government understands, judging by its hastily concocted higher education reforms, with all the uncertainty they entail,” said Ann Mroz, the editor of the Times Higher, in a report accompanying the list.

The Netherlands, Germany and Canada followed the U.S. and U.K. as the countries with most universities on the list. ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, was the highest ranked outside of the U.S. and U.K. at 15th position.

The University of Tokyo, in 30th place, was the top-ranked Asian school. Japan has five schools in the top 200, the most of any Asian nation, while Hong Kong has four and China three. Three Taiwanese universities dropped out of the list this year, leaving just one, while India had none.

Top 20 World University Rankings 2011-12:

--Editors: Peter Branton, Tim Farrand

To contact the reporter on this story: Namitha Jagadeesh at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Colin Keatinge at

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