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Colleges’ International Reputations Sometimes Exceed Performance, American Schools Dominate World Rankings

Posted on Sunday July 10, 2011 by Staff Writers

American colleges make up four of the five most reputable colleges in the world, according to a survey released by Great Britain’s “Times Higher Education” March 10. According to Inside Higher Education, the survey results, unlike others, “can’t be criticized for being unclear about the impact of reputation — as they are strictly of reputation.” The survey, conducted in eight languages and delivered to 13,388 selected college professionals worldwide, shows Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., has unmistakably the best international reputation. The surveyed academics were asked to rank teaching and research at several universities in their own field of study, according to a Times article on the survey. Rounding out the top five were, in order, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge in England, University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University in California. While U.S. schools dominated the list, holding 17 of the top 25 spots, other countries also had schools which scored well in reputation: the United Kingdom had four schools in the top 25; Japan had two in the top 25; and Canada and Switzerland had one each.

The London-based group that conducted the survey and produced the rankings also ranks colleges from all over the world based on performance, and by region and subject areas. When comparing the international reputation rankings to the international performance rankings, the Times explains, reputation in some cases may exceed performance. The world performance rankings are based on 13 indicators in five categories: teaching and the learning environment, research, citations and research influence, industry income, and international mix of staff and students. They were not each weighted the same amount. Based on these rankings, Harvard is still the top university worldwide, living up to its reputation. The California Institute of Technology ranks second in performance but tenth in reputation; MIT ranked third in performance but second in reputation; Stanford ranks fourth in performance but fifth in reputation; and Princeton University ranked fifth in performance but seventh in reputation.

Survey analysis suggests that there are six college “super brands” whose reputations precede them: Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of Oxford. The idea that for many British universities, reputation exceeds performance, is worrisome to the surveyors who cited concern that several universities in the United Kingdom were “trading on reputation.” Some American schools also have a higher reputation than performance, such as Yale, which is ranked tenth in performance but ninth in reputation, but many American schools, there performance would suggest, are under-recognized internationally. Many American schools have a reputation ranking far lower than their performance ranking, including Duke University, which performs at ranking 24 but has a reputation at ranking 36, and Northwestern University, which performs at ranking 25 but is fortieth in international reputation. Other U.S. schools with a high international reputation ranking include the University of California Los Angeles, which was twelfth, the University of Michigan at 13, Johns Hopkins University at 14 and the University of Chicago at 15. In total, the U.S. had 45 schools in the top 100.