U.S. university world dominance in jeopardy due to disparity

THE's world ranking of 1,900+ universities across 108 countries found that the average rank among U.S. universities has fallen 52 spots to 348.

If you were to look at the top 10 list on Times Higher Education’s international university ranking in a vacuum, you’d be welcomed by another year of U.S. universities setting the world standard. However, a more troubling insight emerges once you measure the broader competency of U.S. higher education as a whole.

THE’s world ranking of 1,900+ universities across 108 countries found that the average rank among U.S. universities has fallen 52 spots to 348. Meanwhile, the average rank among Australian and Canadian universities climbed, besting the U.S. at 282 and 337, respectively.

“A longitudinal look at the data finds American universities’ dominance, while still powerful, is waning over time and is being increasingly challenged from East Asian universities, in particular, by those from China, which continues to make dramatic progress,” said Phil Baty, THE’s Chief global affairs officer.

While U.S. universities make up seven of the 10 best universities in the world, China’s Tsinghua and Peking universities broke into the top 15, overtaking Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Rank University Country/region
1 United Kingdom University of Oxford
2 United States Stanford University (Calif.)
3 United States Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 United States Harvard University (Mass.)
5 United Kingdom University of Cambridge
6 United States Princeton University (N.J.)
7 United States California Institute of Technology
8 United Kingdom Imperial College of London
9 United States University of California, Berkeley
10 United States Yale University (Conn.)

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Why the decline in U.S. university rankings?

There are five categories THE used to asses universities: teaching, research quality, research environment, international outlook and industry. While U.S. universities scored above the world median in all five categories and particularly well in industry, there is one area it shot itself in the foot: research funding.

Of the 28 countries with at least 10 universities to feature in the world rankings, the U.S. ranked 20th in research funding, which is defined by research income as a proportion of institutional income. Conversely, universities’ average proportion of research income has increased in China, South Korea, Canada and Australia since 2019.

These findings oppose those from The National Science Foundation and the Higher Education Research and Development Survey that found U.S. university expenditure on research and development (R&D) has soared across a 10- and two-year span.

Another issue U.S. universities face is an emerging disparity between the most elite U.S. universities and the rest. While R&D funding appeared strong according to the aforementioned survey, it also found that the top 30 research universities accounted for 42% of total R&D spending.

More than a quarter (56) of the top 200 universities worldwide were from the U.S. The remaining 113 U.S. universities to feature on THE’s ranking dragged the country’s average rank down to 348.

“This raises challenging questions about unequal access to the best university education across America and the implications for social mobility and economic disparities between US regions,” said Baty.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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