International Rankings Explained (2018)

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

While rankings are only one measure of our excellence and they do not tell the full story of the University’s success, they are nevertheless important and continue to influence prospective students, other academics, and government policy makers.

University rankings are widely publicised and popular in part because of their simplicity. They take a range of different indicators and combine them using a weighting schema to create a single score and ranking position.

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
QS – World University Rankings
Shanghai Ranking – Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
National Taiwan University (NTU)-  Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities
U.S. News & World Report – 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. 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.

Global University Ranking Results (2018)

Institution NTU U.S. News THE ARWU QS
Harvard University 1 1 6 1 3
Stanford University 2 3 3 2 2
University of Oxford 5 5 1 7 5
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 9 2 4 4 1
University of California – Berkeley 14 4 15 5 27
University of Cambridge 10 7 2 3 6
University of California – Los Angeles 11 13 17 11 32
Columbia University 12 8 16 8 16
Johns Hopkins University 3 12 12 18 21
University of Chicago 20 14 10 10 9
Yale University 18 11 8 11 15
University of Washington – Seattle 6 10 28 14 66
California Institute of Technology 57 6 5 9 4
University of Pennsylvania 12 16 12 16 19
Imperial College London 15 18 9 24 8
University College London 8 21 14 17 10
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor 7 18 20 27 20
University of Toronto 4 20 21 23 28
Cornell University 22 23 19 12 14
Duke University 19 22 18 26 26
University of California – San Diego 17 17 30 15 41
Princeton University 85 9 7 6 13
Northwestern University 24 24 25 25 28
ETH Zurich 48 25 11 19 7
University of British Columbia 25 29 37 43 47


The international rankings also rank universities across broad disciplinary fields.


THE – Subject Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Arts & Humanities 18 1 10
Education 13 1 9
Law 11 1 6
Psychology 19 2 9
Business & Economics 28 2 17
Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health 13 1 8
Computer Science 18 1 11
Engineering & Technology 31 1 22
Life Sciences 24 1 12
Physical Sciences 26 1 17
Social Sciences 25 1 14



QS – Field Global Rank Rank in Canada Rank Among
Public Universities
Arts & Humanities 22 1 14
Engineering & Technology 43 1 36
Life Sciences & Medicine 13 1 8
Natural Sciences 23 1 17
Social Sciences & Management 34 1 26


Shanghai and QS also provide rankings for narrow subject areas. Highlights include:

  • Shanghai Subject Rankings:
    • U of T is among the top 50 in 35 subjects. The same number of subjects as Berkeley. Only Harvard, Stanford and Michigan have more.
    • U of T was ranked in the top 10 in seven subjects: Automation & Control (7th), Human Biological Sciences (6th), Medical Technology (4th), Public Health (10th), Psychology (2nd), Sociology (8th), Management (9th)
  • QS Subject Rankings:
    • U of T is among the top 25 in 31 subjects. Alongside Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford and Harvard
    • U of T was ranked in the top 10 in eight subjects: Computer Science (10th), Geography (9th), Nursing (2nd), Anatomy (8th), Anthropology (8th), Social Policy (8th), Theology (8th, tied), and Sports-related subjects (6th).

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, the differing weights assigned to the indicators and the statistical scoring methodology that is utilized by the ranking organizations. Because of the choice of indicators, 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:


And the following chart shows the significance of the size-dependent indicators vs. ratio-based indicators:

Where do the ranking organizations get their data?
Each ranking is different but a significant proportion of each ranking is based on publication and citation data from 3rd party sources. Many of rankings also utilize reputation survey data. They conduct surveys of published academics and the participants are asked to nominate which universities they consider the best in their field. QS and THE also acquire data from universities directly (see below for more details). ARWU utilizes data from various public sources such as the list of Nobel Prize winners.

What data are provided by the University to the ranking organizations?
The majority of data underlying the ranking results are from third party data sources, however for THE and QS some information is provided by the universities. Examples of their data requests include: enrolment counts, degrees awarded, proportion of staff and students that are international, and financial information. The University of Toronto 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 their surveys. Although survey participants typically cannot select their own institution, academics at other institutions may select U of T.

As a result, fostering and maintaining positive relationships with our collaborators, partners and alumni in academic positions may help us maximise our reputational standing. Expanding our engagement in global research networks brings many benefits – including increasing awareness of the world-class quality of U of T’s scholarship.

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, there are several mission focused rankings that we also monitor:

  • THE’s Reputation Rankings: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 22nd 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 12th in the world.
  • Reuters’ Top 100 the World’s Most Innovative Universities: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada and 35th in the world.
  • Macleans ranking of Canadian universities, by reputation: U of T was ranked 1st in Canada

Note: some rankings are published using a cover date in the future of the actual date, for example, the QS ranking published in June 2018 is branded as the 2019 ranking. This article uses the year in which the ranking was published, not the cover date assigned by the ranking organization.