December 2005 -


UW Ranks Among Top 20 in the World;
Alumni Asked to Vote on Peers, Assessing Higher Ed

In a cover story on higher education, The Economist magazine in London ranked the University of Washington among the top universities in the world, putting it at No. 20.

The magazine based its list on rankings by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Since the Sept. 8 publication date, the institute has revised its rankings and now the UW stands at No. 17.

“Being ranked among the top 20 universities in the world obviously is a tremendous achievement,” says President Mark Emmert, ’75, in his column on page six of this issue of Columns. “Our students, faculty and staff work extremely hard and perform at a truly exceptional level, so it is very rewarding to see their efforts recognized as world-class.”

In its report, the magazine called the U.S. system “a successful model of how to organize higher education,” adding that the nation “has almost a monopoly on the world’s best universities, but also provides access to higher education for the bulk of those who deserve it.”

But The Economist is not the only source of higher education rankings. The most famous rankings in the U.S. are issued by U.S. News and World Report, which put the University of Washington at a tie for 45th among all “national universities,” and at a tie for 12th among public universities, in its latest report.

Then there is the National Research Council’s ranking of doctoral programs, which puts the UW 16th in the nation among 274 universities that were evaluated. These rankings, last issued in 1995, are much more respected within academe than the U.S. News rankings. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Administrators will use it to consider which doctoral programs on their campuses deserve more money and which, perhaps, deserve to be overhauled or abandoned. State and federal policy makers will use it to determine whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.”

Rankings can be confusing, because each organization uses different criteria to judge universities. U.S. News uses the size of a university’s endowment, average class size, the rate of alumni giving and the faculty/student ratio among its criteria. Jiao Tong University uses the level of research grants and contracts, the number of alumni and faculty who are Nobel laureates, and citations in academic journals as part of its formula.

In addition, some groups, such as U.S. News, have been accused of changing their formula annually so that institutions move up and down in the ranks, creating more “news value” for each year’s listing.

“We are very proud that the University of Washington ranks so highly,” says UW Alumni Association Executive Director John Buller, ’69, ’71. “We’d like to know how alumni feel about these rankings. Which colleges do they feel are UW peers? What criteria would they use to rank a college or university?”

To gauge alumni opinion, the UW Alumni Association has created a voting Web site. The results of the vote will be reported in the March Columns.

Top World Universities

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Cambridge
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of California, Berkeley
  5. MIT
  6. Cal Tech
  7. Columbia University
  8. Princeton University
  9. University of Chicago
10. University of Oxford
11. Yale University
12. Cornell University
13. University of California, San Diego
14. UCLA
15. University of Pennsylvania
16. University of Wisconsin
17. University of Washington
18. University of California, San Francisco
19. Johns Hopkins University
20. Tokyo University

Source: Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University