Academic Ranking of World Universities

Academic Ranking of World Universities

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is one of the best-known international university rankings. It is published online annually by the Center for World-Class Universities (CWCU) at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Therefore it is colloquially often referred to as the Shanghai ranking. The focus of the Academic Ranking of World Universities is particularly the research strength of the ranked universities, with a special focus on the natural sciences and technical fields.

Methodology of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is based on the evaluation of four categories with a total of six indicators:

  • Quality of education:
    • Number of graduates who have received a Nobel Prize in Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, or Economics, or a Fields Medal (a high honor for mathematicians) (10%)
  • Quality of the staff:
    • Number of employees who have received a Nobel Prize or Fields Medal (20%)
    • Number of highly cited researchers in 21 subject categories (20%)
  • Research performance:
    • Number of articles published in Nature and Science (20%)
    • Number of articles listed in the Science Citation Index-Expanded and in the Social Science Citation Index (20%)
  • Performance per capita:
    • Academic performance in relation to the size of the institution (10%)

However, not every university in the world is included in the assessment. Instead, the Center for World-Class Universities makes a preselection for the ARWU. Then about 1200 universities remain, which are then compared with one another.

The preselection for the Academic Ranking of World Universities is based on whether the universities even meet one of the indicators for the evaluation – for example, whether there are Nobel Prize or Fields medal winners among the professors or graduates or whether there are articles in those relevant for the ranking Specialist journals have been published

Using the six indicators mentioned above, a ranking of the 500 best universities is then determined, which evaluates them as an overall institution.

This result can be expanded a little further: It is possible to display the point values that the universities were able to achieve for the individual indicators. In this way, interested parties can receive a more differentiated assessment. A country-specific view of the Academic Ranking of World Universities is also possible. This is particularly useful for students who, for example, are planning a master’s degree or a doctorate abroad and have already decided on a country.

Extract from the current ARWU 2020

The top 10

  • 1st place: Harvard University (USA)
  • 2nd place: Stanford University (USA)
  • 3rd place: University of Cambridge (Great Britain)
  • 4th place: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (USA)
  • 5th place: University of California, Berkeley (USA)
  • 6th place: Princeton University (USA)
  • 7th place: Columbia University (USA)
  • 8th place: California Institute of Technology (USA)
  • 9th place: University of Oxford (Great Britain)
  • Rank 10: University of Chicago (USA)

Our partner universities in the top 100

  • Rank 13: University of California Los Angeles (USA)
  • 18th place: University of California San Diego (USA)
  • 32nd place: University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA)
  • Rank 35: The University of Melbourne (Australia)
  • 40th place: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (USA)
  • 49th place: University of California Santa Barbara (USA)
  • Rank 64: University of Bristol (Great Britain)
  • 69th place: University of California Irvine (USA)
  • Rank 74: UNSW Australia (Australia)
  • Rank 85: The University of Western Australia (Australia)
  • 90th place: Boston University (USA)
  • Rank 91: University of California Davis (USA)
  • 100th place: Fudan University (China)

Further partner universities in the ARWU

Placements between 101 and 150

  • University of Sheffield (Great Britain)
  • University of Birmingham (Great Britain)

Placements between 151 and 200

Placements between 201 and 300

  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain)
  • Deakin University (Australia)
  • Newcastle University (Great Britain)
  • Northeastern University (USA)
  • Swinburne University of Technology (Australia)
  • University of Auckland (New Zealand)
  • University of California Riverside (USA)
  • University of Tasmania (Australia)
  • University of Technology Sydney (Australia)

Placements between 301 and 400

  • Griffith University (Australia)
  • James Cook University (Australia)
  • La Trobe University (Australia)
  • RMIT University (Australia)
  • University of Newcastle (Australia)
  • University of Otago (New Zealand)

Placements between 401 and 500

  • Mahidol University (Thailand)
  • San Diego State University (USA)
  • University of Canterbury (New Zealand)
  • Universidad de Chile (Chile)
  • Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)

Sub-rankings of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

In addition to the overall ARWU, there are two sub-rankings: The ARWU-FIELD and the ARWU-SUBJECT.


The ARWU-FIELD (Academic Ranking of World Universities by Broad Subject Fields) offers a ranking list of the 200 best universities, divided into five major subject areas:

  • Natural Sciences and Mathematics (Natural Sciences and Mathematics)
  • Engineering / technology and computer science (Engineering / Technology and Computer Sciences)
  • Bio – and Agricultural Sciences (Life and Agricultural Sciences)
  • Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy (Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy)
  • Social Sciences (Social Sciences)

Humanities and interdisciplinary subjects are within the Academic Ranking of World Universities by Broad Subject Fields, however, not recorded. This is justified with difficulties in finding internationally comparable indicators and reliable data in these areas.

The first four indicators of the ARWU-FIELD are also indicators of the total ARWU. These include firstly the number of graduates who have been awarded the Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal in the field of science and mathematics, and secondly the number of professors and researchers who have received one of these awards. However, the Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals of the graduates are only included in the evaluation from 1961, those of the employees not even until 1971.

Thirdly, the ARWU-FIELD takes into account whether there are frequently cited researchers in certain subjects. Fourth, the number of articles listed in the Science-Citation Index-Expanded is also an indicator of the ARWU-FIELD. The fifth indicator is the number of articles published in the most important specialist journals in the respective subject area, the sixth is only used in engineering. It concerns research expenditure. In the engineering sciences, the first two indicators are not taken into account.

The ARWU-FIELD is therefore quite useful for a more differentiated assessment based on your own specialist area.


The ARWU-SUBJECT (Academic Ranking of World Universities by Subject Fields) is a ranking of the 200 best universities, broken down by subject.

The indicators correspond to the first five of the ARWU-FIELD. The only difference is that Turing Medals are used in computer science instead of Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities by Subject Fields enables students of the five subjects examined to subdivide the ranking at the department level more precisely than the ARWU-FIELD.

Meaningfulness of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) works with indicators that focus almost exclusively on the quality of research. The students who study at the respective universities have no voice here. No conclusions can be drawn about the supervision situation and student satisfaction.

The quality of teaching at ARWU is measured solely by the number of Nobel Prize and Fields Medalists. Academic success is only linked to those graduates who belong to the absolute research elite. Furthermore, graduates who are successfully employed in a non-research-related position are not included at all. If one also takes into account the usually very long period of time between studying and receiving the Nobel Prize, these results may only be of limited significance for the current study situation at the respective university.

In addition, all Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals are included in the evaluation that were awarded from 1911 (for ARWU-FIELD and ARWU-SUBJECT from 1961 and 1971, respectively), albeit with decreasing weighting the further back the date. As a result, younger universities tend to be disadvantaged, which is also shown by the fact that they are underrepresented in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

The evaluation of the published articles in Nature and Science leads to the disadvantage of universities whose publications are in other fields such as the humanities, social sciences or law or which are not written in English.

The two sub- rankings ARWU-FIELD and ARWU-SUBJECT provide some relief to the generalized assessment of the general ARWU. This does not apply to the humanities as they are not taken into account. With five departments, the ARWU-SUBJECT also by no means covers all subjects. Accordingly, it does not have a meaningful value for every student.

Academic Ranking of World Universities

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