Higher education

The world’s top 100 universities, visualised

See how the world’s best institutions compare

If I’ve learned one thing this last week it’s that people are very sensitive souls when it comes to the reputation of their alma mater. Despite presumably spending some of their university years tackling objective research, any semblance of impartiality vanishes when it comes to comparing their own institution to a rival.

As an example, let’s take a recent entry on The Guardian’s Datablog. The article provided data from a study undertaken by Times Higher Education and QS Top Universities that resulted in a list of the top 100 universities in the world. Surely a survey such as this must be incredibly meticulous, if only because it focuses on establishments that pride themselves on their scientific rigour? The ranking would be laughed out of faculties around the world if it wasn’t based on an open and fair analysis.

Apparently not.

84 comments! 84 comments on a dataset! I’ve never seen so many on the Datablog. MPs expenses, the war in Afghanistan, world hunger: none get anywhere near the same discussion. Nothing disgusts people more than seeing the good name of their own university being ground into the mud.

OK, I’m being facetious. But although personally I’m not convinced organisations as complex and diverse as universities can be summed up in a league table, I can afford to relaxed about it as my dear old University of Edinburgh comes joint 20th. Take that, Glasgow (79th) and St Andrews (87th).

I thought the data was interesting enough to have a play with though. I wondered what geography of the top 100 was like: was it spread across the world or was it concentrated in a few places? What about languages? Then I started delving into foundation dates — was the age of an institution important?

It all culminated in the single visualisation I’ve been working this past week. I thought I should publish it somewhere before I get carried away.

A couple of things struck me after looking at the data for so long. Firstly, is the list horribly skewed towards English-speaking institutions or are the United States and the United Kingdom really that good? And secondly, if you wanted to endow a university the 19th century was a golden age — over fifty per cent of the top 100 were founded between 1810 and 1910.

Now over to you: how did your school fare? Do you feel hard done by?


  1. Loving the visuals, very nice indeed.

    Alex
    16 October 2009