Rankings: 50 Universities with Internationally Portable Degrees

By Tom Pavone, University of Chicago

In today’s globalized world, every college student should be asking themselves whether their degree will be portable internationally. It turns out that answering this question is more difficult than simply referring to the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

Why? Because what brings prestige to a university in the United States does not necessarily endow it with distinction abroad.

Consider, for example, Dartmouth College. In the most recent U.S. News ranking, the Ivy League university boasts an 11th place ranking. Its acceptance rate for the fall of 2010 was a measly 11.7 percent, and it has dropped since then. With just over 4,000 students enrolled and a yearly tuition price tag of over 40,000 dollars, Dartmouth is the epitome of the selective and elite institution every parent hopes their child will attend (and hopefully on scholarship).

But is a degree from Dartmouth portable internationally? It turns out that the answer might not be the definitive yes we would expect.

The evidence? Consider four respected and diverse ranking schemes for international universities: the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (from the United Kingdom), the QS World University Rankings (from the United Kingdom), the Academic Ranking of World Universities (from China), and the Global Universities Rankings (from Russia). Each ranking presents its own idiosyncrasies and questionable outcomes (for example, the Russian ranking scheme suspiciously ranks Lomonosov’s Moscow State University as number five in the world). But if one averages out the ranks of all four ranking schemes, it is possible to create a much more accurate picture of which universities are well known internationally. After all, if a school performs well on average in ranking lists from cultures as different as the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, it is fair to say that a degree from that university will likely be very valuable in the international arena.

How does Dartmouth perform when one averages the aforementioned rankings? It doesn’t even make the top 50.

Conversely, the University of Washington at Seattle, for instance, performs strongly, coming in at a tie for 22nd place with Kyoto University in Japan.

This exposes yet another reason to be wary of the dominance of the U.S. News and World Report’s monopoly over students’ college selection process. A student relying on the U.S. News methodology would seem a fool to select the University of Washington, which ranks at #42 nationally, over Dartmouth. And yet there is evidence that a degree from the University of Washington might be more portable internationally than that from the prestigious Ivy League school.

Why the discrepancy between the domestic U.S. News methodology and the average of the four international ranking schemes? Because what gets a university press abroad is innovative research, not necessarily prestige and elite status.

In fact, according to a 2009 National Science Foundation report, the University of Washington at Seattle spent the 8th most in research and development out of all American universities, well ahead of every single Ivy League school. In fact, 13 out of the 20 American universities with the biggest research spending make it on the list of the top 50 world Universities when averaging the four international ranking methodologies mentioned earlier.

What’s the take away message? If you wish to work abroad upon graduation, it helps to look beyond the U.S. News methodology and to consider how the schools are perceived in the international labor market, and it turns out that research-intensive universities almost always beat out schools that are more focused on teaching.

The good news? Getting into the University of Washington is a lot easier (and cheaper) an endeavor than getting into Dartmouth.

In this light, the following is the list of the 50 best performing universities based on an average of their ranks in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and the Global Universities Rankings. Note that this ranking list includes non-American universities, but it is nonetheless interesting to note the dominance of the American universities compared to other countries (though the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Australia also perform very well):

1. Harvard University (United States) (Avg. rank: 2.5)
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States) (Avg. rank: 3.25)
3. California Institute of Technology (United States) (Avg. rank: 4.75)
4. University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 5)
5. Stanford University (United States) (Avg. rank: 6.75)
6. Yale University (United States) (Avg. rank: 8 )
7. Princeton University (United States) (Avg. rank: 8.5)
8. University of Oxford (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 9)
9. University of Chicago (United States) (Avg. rank: 9.75)
10. Columbia University (United States) (Avg. rank: 10.25)
T-11. Imperial College of London (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 14)
T-11. University of California- Berkeley (United States) (Avg. rank: 14)
13. Johns Hopkins University (United States) (Avg. rank: 14.25)
14. University College of London (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 15)
15. University of Pennsylvania (United States) (Avg. rank: 16)
16. Cornell University (United States) (Avg. rank: 17.25)
17. University of Tokyo (Japan) (Avg. rank: 18.25)
18. University of California — Los Angeles (United States) (Avg. rank: 18.5)
19. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (United States) (Avg. rank: 19.25)
20. Duke University (United States) (Avg. rank: 24.25)
21. Northwestern University (United States) (Avg. rank: 26.67)
T-22. Kyoto University (Japan) (Avg. rank: 29.25)
T-22. University of Washington (United States) (Avg. rank: 29.25)
24. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Switzerland) (Avg. rank: 32)
25. University of California — San Diego (United States) (Avg. rank: 32.75)
T-26. University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 33.25)
T-26. Carnegie Mellon University (United States) (Avg. rank: 33.25)
T-28. University of Toronto (Canada) (Avg. rank: 34.25)
T-28. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (United States) (Avg. rank: 34.25)
30. McGill University (Canada) (Avg. rank: 36.25)
31. University of British Columbia (Canada) (Avg. rank: 36.67)
32. New York University (United States) (Avg. rank: 38.5)
33. University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill (United States) (Avg. rank: 42.67)
34. Australian National University (Australia) (Avg. rank: 43)
35. University of Wisconsin — Madison (United States) (Avg. rank: 44.5)
36. Washington University in St. Louis (United States) (Avg. rank: 48.33)
37. Ecole Normale Superieure — Paris (France) (Avg. rank: 48.67)
38. King’s College in London (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 49.25)
39. University of Minnesota (United States (Avg. rank: 50.5)
40. University of Manchester (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 53.25)
41. University of Bristol (United Kingdom) (Avg. rank: 53.67)
42. University of Melbourne (Australia) (Avg. rank: 54.25)
43. University of California — Santa Barbara (United States) (Avg. rank: 56)
44. Brown University (United States) (Avg. rank: 66.25)
45. National University of Singapore (Singapore) (Avg. rank: 69.5)
46. Osaka University (Japan) (Avg. rank: 75)
47. University of California — Irvine (United States) (Avg. rank: 76.5)
48. University of Copenhagen (Denmark) (Avg. rank: 77.5)
49. Georgia Institute of Technology (United States) (Avg. rank: 78.5)
T-50. University of Hong Kong (China) (Avg. rank: 82.25)
T-50. University of Sydney (Australia) (Avg. rank: 82.25)

Note: I gathered the ranking of each university from the four rankings above and then averaged them out, then sorted the top 50 universities by highest average ranking. For example, a school with a rank of #10, #15, #20, and #25 would get an average rank of #17.5, but it might rank higher or lower than #17 or #18 depending on whether other universities have a higher average rank.

Tom Pavone is a columnist for The New Student Union.



The New Student Union is an online magazine run by and for college students covering the issues we care about. Self-starters with great communication skills and a passion for writing should email to get involved. Official site will launch in late 2011.



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