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Rankings 09: Areas of expertise

Terrence O'Brien
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Universities in East Asia are showing strength even in the humanities, a subject in which they traditionally have fared poorly.

The rise of Asian institutions in the World University Rankings is reflected in our five subject tables (published over the next five pages).

The US and the UK continue to dominate the upper echelons of the tables, but some of the biggest climbers are from Asia.

The subject tables cover five core areas: engineering and information technology; life sciences and biomedicine; natural sciences; social sciences; and arts and humanities.

Institutions are ranked exclusively on the results of Times Higher Education's academic opinion survey, which asks scholars to list the best institutions in their field. It was based this year on 9,386 responses.

We also publish in the tables a "citations per paper" score (rather than citations per person as there are insufficient data on staff numbers at subject level). But this score is not combined with the peer-review survey results.

In the arts and humanities table (page xviii), Harvard University is, unsurprisingly, top, followed by the University of Oxford, then the University of Cambridge.

But a number of Asian institutions have enjoyed a dramatic rise in this table. The University of Tokyo moved up 15 places to 13th, while Kyoto jumped 17 places to 20th. The University of Hong Kong rose 12 places to 34th, while Seoul National University leapt 43 places to 33rd.

Seoul National University also performed strongly in the engineering and information technology table (see right), rising 16 places to joint 27th. This table is dominated by institutions in the US' technology hubs on the East and West coasts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is top, followed by the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, in Silicon Valley. In life sciences (page xvi), Seoul National University is a big winner again, up 16 places to 24th, reflecting a strong showing in the peer-review survey. But Kyoto was another big climber, up 11 places to joint 13th.

The natural sciences table (page xvi) is the only one of the five subject tables to be topped by an institution outside the US - the UK's University of Cambridge. Cambridge pipped MIT and Berkeley to the top spot, but another Asian institution has done well: Japan's Tohoku University climbed 19 places to 49th.

In social sciences (page xviii), Japan has another notable climber: Kyoto rose 13 places to 29th. But the table is topped by Harvard, followed by California Berkeley and Oxford. Across all five tables, Harvard tops three.

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