International Rankings of Reference.

There is no easy answer to which university or qualification is the best. There is no scientific theory that defines what being the best university consists of, because the concept of “best” depends on the priorities of each person. Universities are required to fulfil three missions (teaching, research and contribution to their environment), which are very complex, which makes it impossible to reduce them all to a comparison based on a single indicator or criterion.

There are two types of generic references when searching for information about the quality of teaching at universities:

  1. The reviews carried out by external and independent quality agencies (for example, Unibasq). The assessment reports of these quality agencies are focussed on more qualitative aspects and usually contain detailed information, but they can be too technical for the general public.
  2. University rankings (and ratings). Rankings and ratings compare universities in accordance with some defined criteria with some very specific objectives. As for teaching quality, they use indicators which try to measure the complexity of teaching and learning purely quantitatively to enable comparisons between universities.

Rankings are differentiated from ratings by the different way in which the results are presented.

  • RANKINGS compare universities one by one and put them in order according to a measure of efficiency based on diverse indicators. The order in which the universities appear is calculated by grouping them, (usually, weighting them) in a single indicator. Examples: Shanghai ranking (ARWU) and Leiden
  • RATINGS assess universities according to the performance in diverse areas, in a similar way to rankings. However, instead of comparing institutions one by one, they are classified based on a standard scale (for example, as “excellent”, “good”, “poor”, etc.). Examples include U-Multirank and QS Stars

In all these cases, different methodologies are used to measure the quality of teaching. It is worth highlighting that university rankings are often used to take decisions to choose a university based on its teaching quality, but often the indicators used for rankings are not the most appropriate for that purpose. Rankings provide a general comparative that can be useful to obtain initial guidance, but the information should be complemented with other sources when taking decisions about teaching quality, for example, with quality agencies such as Unibasq.


The most relevant international university rankings and ratings

Name and linkMain characteristicsDoes it consider teaching quality?
Ranking de Shanghai (ARWU - Academic Ranking of World Universities)The first ranking, which was begun in 2003. It is very focussed on research quality. Its indicators are nearly all about research activity.Not to prepare the order or ranking of universities, but it offers a series of individual indicators that do contain some relevant indicators for teaching quality.
CWTS Leiden Ranking)Based exclusively on bibliometric indicators, that is, research publications.No
U-multirankA rating that allows the user to select individual indicators to create a made-to-measure ranking for the user. It contains indicators from 5 missions ("dimensions"): teaching quality, research quality, internationalisation, transfer of knowledge, and fitting in and contribution to the region. It permits the comparison of institutions from each other, as well as by discipline.Yes, in the dimensions of "teaching quality", "internationalisation" and "contribution to the region".
Times Higher Education RankingsA set of world rankings of institutions, disciplines and reputation, which has added regional rankings (Asia, Latin America and BRICS). It combines 5 large sets of indicators which combine internationalisation, research and teaching. Yes, in some of its indicators whose values are published separately.
Quacqarelli-Symonds (QS) rankingsIt is a set of rankings which take much more account of research than teaching, but reputation has great weight, more than efficiency or specific results.Yes, in some of its indicators, but some of them are based on reputation more than on performance.
Quacqarelli-Symonds (QS) StarsRating system based on a points system (checklist type) classifying each university by its quality in all measured aspects.Yes.
Thomson Reuters’ Global Institutional Profiles ProjectSet of indicators of global universities which analyse all kinds of activities, missions and results.Yes, in some indicators.
SCImago Institutions RankingInstitutional ranking focussed on research.The majority of the indicators concern research, but some indicators also measure the internationalisation component and quality of teaching staff.
Round University rankingA ranking which offers 20 classified university indicators in 4 categories: teaching, research, international diversity and financial sustainability.Yes.