ETH Zurich’s confirmation of its standing as one of the world’s best universities in numerous university rankings year in, year out is something that we have almost grown accustomed to. This status has, once again, been borne out by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, the most recent edition of which has just been published. Compared to the previous year, ETH Zurich has moved up two positions to take seventh place. University College London (UCL) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) now rank behind the Swiss university. As has been the case for several years, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claims the top spot. The University of Cambridge is in second place, now followed by the University of Oxford.
Improvement also due to new methodology
“It fills me with pride each year to witness ETH Zurich being placed alongside these prestigious institutions,” says ETH President Joël Mesot. He goes on: “Ranking among the best signifies two things for me – it is testimony to the fact that our long-term investments in research and teaching are paying off, and serves as proof of my colleagues’ remarkable daily accomplishments. Even if rankings never reflect the whole truth and have to be treated with caution, as a university we have to take them seriously.”
ETH Zurich also benefits this year from a change in methodology. The QS Rankings evaluate several areas, each of which is weighted differently in the overall result. As in previous years, ETH Zurich achieves top scores of 98.9 out of 100 points for citations per faculty and 98.8 points for academic reputation. Both metrics have a particularly strong impact on the overall ranking, accounting for 20 and 30 percent respectively.
Faculty-student ratio attributed less weight
New metrics – sustainability, employment outcomes and international research network – have been added this year. ETH Zurich gained above-average ground in terms of employment outcomes and international research network in particular. The introduction of the new criteria also reduced the weight attributed to the existing metrics. This means that the faculty-student ratio, in which ETH Zurich continues to score lower than its peers, is only weighted with 10 instead of 20 percent. Consequently, ETH Zurich’s 177th place in terms of the faculty-student ratio has less of an impact on the overall result.
“Even if this aspect now assumes less importance in the rankings, the faculty-student ratio gives me cause for concern for the future,” says Joël Mesot. “For years, the growth in our student numbers has outpaced our growth in funding. The cost-cutting efforts announced will make it even more challenging to preserve the high quality of our teaching and to prevent us from falling further behind in terms of the faculty-student ratio in an international comparison.” Switzerland would, therefore, be well advised to take care of its most important resource – knowledge – and to continue to invest in teaching and research in difficult economic times.
Strong showing by Swiss universities
A look at the rankings of other Swiss universities confirms that these investments are worthwhile for Switzerland. Two other institutions rank in the top 100, out of a total 1,500 classified institutions. EPFL now ranks 36th (16th last year) and the University of Zurich 91st (83rd last year). Nine of the best 500 universities in the world are located in Switzerland – an absolutely outstanding accomplishment when viewed in relation to the number of its inhabitants.