Friday, November 27, 2020

The World's Universities Ranked and Located; An Update

Once in a while, I  play  with statistics that list and  rank the world’s major universities. At this time, such a game may be a welcome distraction from   the  double nightmare of Covid-19 and Trump’s attempted Coup d’Etat.

 My source is the Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was created  in 2003.  It uses six  indicators, including the number of  Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers, number of articles published in scholarly journals, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index, and per capita performance of a university. More than 1800 universities are ranked every year and the best 1000 are published. I don’t know whether their methodology is the best, but they have good credibility, and  at least they can’t be suspected of pro-America bias.

I last wrote such an article about three years ago.  I now offer you an update, with some interesting factoids. All calculations are mine. I hope that  you enjoy perusing these.  I focus first on the top 100 and then on the top 500 universities of the world. 

Table 1. Top Universities of the world. By Region


Top 100


Total 500







North America










Australia-New Zea.





Middle East





Latin America










Anglo Countries





 Table 1 shows that a disproportionate number of quality universities are located in  Europe and in  North America - primarily the US -  with North America especially dominant in the “elite” category (top 100).

However, when we compare the number of universities on a per capita basis, a different  ranking emerges, as shown in table 2. 

            Table 2. World’s Top 500 Universities and Population Ratio                                     


People per University

1-2. Sweden (11 universities), Switzerland (8 universities)

900,000 - 1 million

3-5. Australia (23 universities), Hong Kong (7 universities), Denmark (5 universities)

1.1 - 1.2  million

6-8. Austria (7 universities), Estonia (1 university), Netherlands (12 universities)

1.3 - 1.4 million

9. Israel (6 universities);

1.5 million

10-12: Belgium (7 universities), Ireland (3 universities), New Zealand (3 universities)

1.6  million

13-14. Norway (3 universities), Finland (3 universities)

1.8  million

15-16. United Kingdom (35 universities), Canada (20 universities) 

1.9  million

17. USA (133 universities)

2.5 million

18-19. Germany (32 universities), Singapore (2 universities)

2.6 - 2.8 million          

20-23. Portugal (3 universities), Italy (17 univ.), France (17 univ.), Croatia (1 univ.)

3.5 - 4 million

24-26. Spain (10 universities), South Korea (11 universities), Taiwan (5 universities)

4.7 - 4.8  million

27-28 . Serbia (1 university), Saudi Arabia (4 universities)

7 - 8.4  million

29. Japan (14 universities)

9 million         

30-31. Czechia (1 university), Greece (1 university)

11 million

32. South Africa (4 universities)

14.5 million

33-34. Chile (1 university), Poland (2 universities)

19 million       

35. China (70 universities)

20 million       

36-37. Malaysia (1 university), Brazil (6 universities)

33 - 35 million

38-39. Argentina (1 university), Russia (3 universities)

44 - 48 milion

40. Thailand (1 university)

69.5 million

41-43. Iran, Turkey., Egypt (1 university each)

82-98 million

44. Mexico (1 university)

126 million

 While in absolute numbers no country approaches the United States, which has  133 of the world’s top 500 universities, relative to population the US ranks only  #17. The countries that do best in this ranking are: The four  Scandinavian countries, Switzerland,  Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, the  Benelux, the United  Kingdom, Austria and  Israel.                 

China and rest of Asia: This region has a sizable number of universities: 111 among the top 500. China’s share of this is 70, that of Japan is 14 and South Korea’s is 11. However, on a per capita basis,  the Asian countries’ “university density” remains significantly lower than those of North America and Western Europe   (Except for Hong Kong).                                                                       

Now for Some Specifics:

Having cautioned the American reader not to gloat  about the very large ABSOLUTE number of top universities located in the US, I now turn to an examination of the United States. Of the world’s top 13 universities,   11 are in the US and the remaining 2 are  in the United Kingdom. They are  the usual suspects:

1. Harvard

2. Stanford

3. Cambridge

4. MIT

5. UC Berkeley

6. Princeton

7. Columbia

8. Cal Tech

9. Oxford

10. Univ. of Chicago

11. Yale

12. Cornell

13. UCLA


Of the world’s top 25 universities, 18  are in the US, 4  in the UK and 1 each in France, Switzerland and Canada.

Three American “leagues” or “groups” are of special interest to me: (1) The Ivy League, (2) the University of California  and (3)the  Big Ten.  I will also discuss (4) some other universities with which I have been associated, either as a student or as a faculty member. I will then  provide some information about (5) Europe, and finally I will point out (6)  the areas and countries of greatest weakness.

I was a professor  at UC Riverside (U. of California) and at Penn State (Big Ten), and my  PhD is  from the Univ. of Minnesota (Big Ten).  Also, my daughters graduated from UC  Berkeley and UC  Davis (U. of California). Alas, we were  neither smart enough  nor rich enough to become  affiliated with the  Ivy League.  Nevertheless, I will start out with this league,  because it is  exceedingly prestigious and because it excels above all other institutions of higher learning. 

1. The US Ivy League consists of 8 universities,  6 of which are among the  world’s top 20:

University:                                          World ranking:

Harvard                                                           1

Princeton                                                         6

Columbia                                                         8

Yale                                                                 11

Cornell                                                            12

Univ. of Penn.                                                 19.

2.  The University of California  has10 campuses, 4 of which are  among the world’s top 21, 7 among  the world’s top 100:

Campus:                                              World ranking:

Berkeley                                                          5

UCLA                                                             13

San Diego                                                       18

San Francisco                                                  21

Santa Barbara                                                  49

Irvine                                                               69

Davis                                                               91                 

3.  The Big Ten  is a largely Midwestern league of top-notch universities. It has gradually expanded to 14 members. Here are the Big Ten’s top 10 universities:

Campus:                                              World ranking:

Michigan                                                         22

Northwestern                                                  30

Wisconsin                                                        31

Minnesota                                                       40

Illinois                                                             45

Maryland                                                         53

Purdue                                                             79

Penn State                                                       101 - 150

Michigan State                                                101 - 150

Indiana                                                             101 - 150

Together, universities that belong to the Ivy league, the University of California and  and the Big Ten account for over one third of the world’s top 50 universities. Add to them a few independent universities such as Chicago (#10 in the world) Johns Hopkins (15), Washington U., St Louis (23), Duke (27), New York University (27), U. of North Carolina  (31), Texas (41),  Rockefeller (43) and  Colorado (44) and you have over half of the world’s top 50 universities.

 4. Universities with which I have been affiliated

These universities are listed  by the chronology of my life, and each is followed by its ranking in the world.  The first 3 are institutions which I attended as a student, the remaining 6 are universities where I taught.

Union College                                                 not listed

University of Amsterdam                               101 - 150

University of Minnesota                                 40

University of Wisconsin                                 32

Cal State, Sacramento                                     not listed

Cal State East Bay                                          not listed

UC Riverside                                                  201 - 300

Penn State                                                       101 - 150                                

Chapman College                                            not listed


5. Europe:

The countries of greatest interest to me are those where I lived - Hungary, France and the Netherlands.

Hungary  is a poor country. None of its universities is ranked in the top 500. However, it has five universities ranked between 501 and 1,000.

France’s record is the 7th best in the world: Its best university is Paris-Saclay (ranked 14th in the world). 5 of its universities are ranked among the world’s 100 best, including the venerable Sorbonne (#39). 17 of its universities are among the world’s 500 best.

The Netherlands’ record is excellent. In absolute terms, it ranks 10th in the world (with a total of 13 universities).

In per capita terms, its  rank is even better, in 8th position. Its highest ranked universities are Utrecht (52) and Groningen (69). 4 of its universities rank among the world’s top 100.

 6. Notable weaknesses:

The top 500 universities of the world are distributed among 44 countries. What about the rest of the world?

Eastern Europe: This region has only  1 university listed among the world’s  top 100: Moscow State  University, ranked #93. The only other 2 countries which have universities listed among  the top 500 are Poland (2) and Czechia (1).

Latin America: This continent has no university among the world’s top 100. As we saw, Brazil does have 6 universities among the top 500, and Argentina, Chile and Mexico each  have 1.

South Asia: The combined population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is nearly one quarter of the world’s. Yet none of these countries have a single  university among the world’s top 500

The Middle East: As we saw, this region has 12 universities among the world’s top 500.

Africa: Of the continent’s 54  countries, only 2 have universities among the world’s top 500:  Sout

h Africa has 4 and   Egypt and Ethiopia each have 1.

The remaining 81 countries of the world have no university  listed among the Shanghai ranking.


This article is not about bragging, or about  Eurocentric or US/Anglo chauvinism.  I merely document a current reality. All of this has to do with  (1) socio-economics and (2) cultural preponderance.  Today, English is the world language, as was French a few hundred years ago and Latin before that. You may call  it cultural domination. For now, the knowledge industry  still takes place mostly   in that part of the world which can most afford it.

Nor does this   article    address  the growing inequity embedded in the entire  US and international university system. By and large, the world’s top universities are for the rich and the privileged. They represent the elite, and the trend is getting worse. But this subject is for another day.

Finally, let me quote my brilliant wife: After she finished reading this article, she asked: “So, with all these grand universities, how come Americans still elected Donald Trump president?” leave comment here