International Rankings Explained (2017)

U of T is often in the news because of its international rankings, but how are the rankings produced and how does U of T compare?

Rankings should be considered as only one measure of our excellence; they do not tell the full story of the university’s success. Rankings use a common set of data and combine different indicators in an arbitrary way that does not reflect the mission of the university or the needs of the rankings reader. All international rankings primarily use data based on the research performance of the university. Other important metrics like the quality of teaching or other aspects of the university’s mission have little to no impact on the rankings results.

How do we rank?
There are many rankings that are of relevance to U of T, but the following are the five major international rankings that we track:

Times Higher Education (THE) – World University Rankings
QSWorld University Rankings
Shanghai RankingAcademic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
National Taiwan University (NTU) – Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities
U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News) – Best Global Universities

The following table shows the results of the top 25 international institutions ordered by their average performance across the five major rankings in 2017. U of T is ranked #1 in Canada for all five of the rankings, and is frequently ranked among the top 10 public universities in the world (NTU=1; U.S. News=10; THE=9; ARWU=10).


Harvard University 6 3 1 1 1
Stanford University 3 2 2 3 3
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5 1 4 7 2
University of Oxford 1 6 7 5 5
University of Cambridge 2 5 3 12 7
Columbia University 14 18 8 12 8
Johns Hopkins University 13 17 18 2 10
University of Chicago 9 9 10 20 14
University of California, Berkeley 18 27 5 9 4
Yale University 12 16 11 18 10
University College London 16 7 16 10 22
Imperial College London 8 8 27 16 17
California Institute of Technology 3 4 9 57 6
University of Pennsylvania 10 19 17 14 19
University of California, Los Angeles 15 33 12 11 13
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 21 21 24 7 17
Cornell University 19 14 14 21 23
University of Toronto 22 31 23 4 20
Duke University 17 21 26 19 21
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich 10 10 19 44 25
Princeton University 7 13 6 78 9
University of Washington, Seattle 25 61 13 6 10
University of California, San Diego 31 38 15 17 16
Northwestern University 20 28 22 23 24
University of Edinburgh 27 23 32 53 30


The international rankings also rank universities across broad disciplinary fields. The following tables show our performance in those rankings. U of T was the only Canadian university and only one of three universities in the world (along with Columbia and Stanford) to be ranked in the top 50 of every subject of the THE-Subject rankings. The University also performs well in the subject rankings from other ranking organizations demonstrating our multidisciplinary excellence.


THE – Subject Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Arts & Humanities 15 1 7
Education 11 1 8
Law 10 1 5
Psychology 13 2 7
Business & Economics 22 2 12
Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health 19 1 11
Computer Science 22 1 14
Engineering & Technology 29 1 21
Life Sciences 22 2 10
Physical Sciences 29 1 20
Social Sciences 27 1 15


QS – Field Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Arts & Humanities 18 1 12
Engineering & Technology 34 1 29
Life Sciences & Medicine 15 1 10
Natural Sciences 22 1 16
Social Sciences 30 1 21


ARWU – Field Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Natural Sciences and Mathematics 51-75 Joint 1st N/A
and Computer Science
50 1 42
Life and Agriculture Sciences 38 2 27
Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy 31 1 19
Social Sciences 20 1 8


NTU – Field Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Agriculture 49 4 45
Clinical Medicine 3 1 1
Engineering 50 1 45
Life Sciences 8 1 4
Natural Sciences 32 1 24
Social Sciences 6 1 3

Ranking organizations also provide rankings for narrow subject areas. Highlights include:

  • University of Toronto was ranked in the top 10 for 6 of the 46 QS subject areas and was ranked 1st in Canada in 32 subjects.
  • University of Toronto was ranked in the top 25 in 25 (of 52) different subject areas of the Shanghai Ranking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects; only four other universities achieved this distinction (Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT).
  • University of Toronto was ranked in the top 50 for 8 of 14 subjects, and ranked number 4 for Pharmacology & Toxicology.
  • University of Toronto was ranked in the top 10 for 4 subjects and in the top 25 for 18 out of 22 subjects.

How does U of T use ranking results?
The University uses ranking results as a demonstration of our excellence in research, both locally and globally. Ranking results support the University’s efforts to tell our story when it comes to:

  • Recruitment of faculty and students
  • Advancement opportunities
  • Advocacy with government officials

Why are there different results among the major rankings?
The results vary depending on the metrics included in each of the rankings and on the differing weights assigned to the indicators. Additionally, the size of the university has more significance in some rankings than others.

The following chart maps the metrics employed by each ranking into seven categories to provide a comparison of the similarities and differences among the methodologies:

Where do the ranking organizations get their data?
Each ranking is different, but as can be seen in the above chart, a significant proportion of each ranking is based on publication and citation data which is provided by either Elsevier’s Scopus or Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science depending on the ranking. Many of the rankings utilize reputation survey data, where the survey asks participants to nominate which universities they consider to be the best in their field. QS and THE also acquire data from universities directly (see below for more details). ARWU also acquires data from various public sources such as the list of Nobel Prize winners.

What data is provided by the University to the ranking organizations?
The majority of data underlying the ranking results is from third party data sources, however for THE and QS, some information is provided by the universities. Examples include: enrolment, degrees awarded, proportion of staff and students that are international, and financial information. The University works carefully with each organization to fulfill the data requirements accurately.

How do faculty and staff members participate in rankings?
QS, THE, and U.S. News use data from reputation surveys of academics, and you may receive an invitation to participate in one of the surveys. Although survey participants typically cannot select their own institution, academics at other institutions may select U of T, and fostering positive relationships with our collaborators may help improve our ranking position. Publishing highly cited papers can be impactful in many ways, including having a positive effect on rankings outcomes. Making sure that each paper is clearly affiliated with the University of Toronto will help the ranking organizations include as many of our research outputs as possible.

Are there other international rankings of importance?
There are many rankings published every year, and there are constantly new ones being introduced. Many contain valuable information, but U of T focuses on the five major ones mentioned above. However, there are several mission focused rankings that we also monitor:

  • THE’s Reputation Rankings: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 24th in the world.
  • THE’s Global Employability Ranking: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 13th in the world.
  • QS’s Graduate Employability Rankings: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 15th in the world.
  • Reuters’ Top 100 the World’s Most Innovative Universities: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 46th in the world.