The latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings saw strong performances from many World 100 Network members, but do not yet provide conclusive proof that the increased visibility of institutions during the pandemic is driving reputational gain.

74% of Network members improved or maintained their league table position since 2020, but that figure was lower than in previous years. With results for the Times Higher Education’s reputation survey of global academics making up 33% of the total score, it has been much clearer previously that universities focused on building reputation have made progress in the rankings.

It was also notable that universities that have gained huge profile for pandemic-related research in the past year have not significantly improved their positions. Whilst the University of Oxford, associated strongly with the development of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, still leads the World University Rankings, its score for research (which includes a sizeable reputation element – 18% of the overall score) was the same as the previous year.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University which has had huge profile through its leading role in collecting and presenting pandemic data, actually fell in the rankings, from 12th to 13th place. Its score for research decreased from the previous year.

These results perhaps confirm the sense that there is a lag factor associated with reputation. It should also be noted that the THE reports data from its reputation surveys across two years, the first of which covered a period before the start of the pandemic.

THE World university Rankings

W100 members making significant progress

A number of World 100 Network members significantly improved their THE rankings positions in the last year.  National University of Singapore jumped four places to 21st, the University of Manchester entered the top 50, and the University of Queensland rose 8 places to 62nd.

The most notable gains were for UK universities. The University of Leeds jumped 33 places Newcastle University rose by 32 places, and the University of Exeter moved up by 31. There were also notable gains by Glasgow, Sheffield, Lancaster, Sussex, Aberdeen, and UEA.

In some cases, these changes for UK institutions helped to recover declines over recent years, perhaps influenced by Brexit. Newcastle, for example, had fallen outside the top 200 by 2020, but a strong focus on brand in recent years now appears to be paying dividends.

THE World university Rankings

Pandemic related research feeds citation score improvements

Rather than translating into clear reputational gains, there is some evidence that strong records of publishing in medical science have already translated into significant boosts for citation impact for some institutions.

Times Higher Education identified 19 institutions that saw a notable rise in their citation impact score in the past year after publishing medical papers relating to Covid-19. Eleven of these institutions are in mainland China, helping to boost the overall number of institutions from that country in the top 200 – now joint fifth, overtaking Canada and on a par with the Netherlands.

Significantly, given the generally static nature of the top echelons of the rankings, two Chinese institutions are now in the top 20 for the first time, with Peking University and Tsinghua University sharing 16th place.

THE World university Rankings

The role of reputation

The question of how successful universities have been at translating the high profile of academics and research during the pandemic into reputational gain is being considered by this year’s annual W100 Network research project.

The final report will be published in the Autumn and will include analysis from surveys with global academics and students, the general public, and interviews with World 100 member universities.