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NTU ranks ahead of Princeton, Cornell, Yale and Columbia in 2018 QS results: “really shady”?

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Netizens have called Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings into question after the 2018 list of top universities ranks Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as the 11th best university in the world, ahead of Ivy League schools like Princeton, Cornell, Yale and Columbia.

This also makes NTU the best university in Asia, having beaten the National University of Singapore (NUS) for the honor. NUS slipped to the 15th spot this year after holding on to 12th place in 2016 and 2017.

Quora user John Ouserhout, an alum of Harvard University, made some startling discoveries about the accuracy of QS rankings when he investigated their ranking methodology further:

  • 10% of the score is based on the % of international students and faculty. This has absolutely no relation to research or teaching, and favors universities in smaller countries like the UK, Switzerland and Singapore over those in the US. 10% might seem like a small number, but when all these universities score almost the same in the major metrics, it is small factors like these that create all the differences in rankings.
  • 50% of the score comes from reputation surveys from Academics and Employers. The methodology of these surveys has come under immense scrutiny – awarding incentives for completing surveys, letting survey takers recommend the survey to others, surveying random academics rather than the established leaders in the field, etc.
  • Less commonly spoken about is the geographic distribution of the survey respondents: 7.3% of respondents come from the UK (Pop: ~65 Mil), 3.7% from Malaysia (Pop: ~20 Mil), 0.8% from Singapore (Pop: ~5Mil), 4.0% from Australia (Pop: ~20 Mil), and just 10% from the USA (Pop: ~ 320 Mil)! 15% of survey respondents are administrators and teaching assistants, not academics! Looks like it’s no surprise that UK, Singapore and Australian universities seem to be higher ranked than they might otherwise be perceived to be.
  • The employer surveys ask “employers to identify those institutions from which they source the most competent, innovative, effective graduates. “ and “ international and domestic responses will contribute 50% each to an institution’s final score.” In short, employers are not actually being asked to compare a hypothetical Harvard grad to an NUS grad. The score for NTU for instance, is based primarily on which universities Singaporean employers will tend to hire graduates from.

He also questioned the integrity of the QS business model, calling the organisation “really shady,” with the following findings:

  • A dubious Star ranking system, where universities pay to be evaluated. (Conflicts of interest anyone?)
  • ‘Branding Opportunities’ for $80,000 with QS Showcase
  • A highly lucrative ‘consultancy service’ to help universities rise up the rankings
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NTU was ranked 39th in 2014’s QS rankings, following which it suddenly vaulted to 13th place in 2015 and 2016.

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