Published: 15.08.13

ETH in the top 20

ETH Zurich jumps up a few notches in the recent Shanghai ranking of world universities. Three up since 2012, the Swiss university holds the twentieth place, breaking Anglo-Saxon dominance.

Peter Rüegg
Thanks to its strong publication record, ETH Zurich jumps ahead to number 20 in the new Shanghai ranking. (Photo: Susi Lindig)
Thanks to its strong publication record, ETH Zurich jumps ahead to number 20 in the new Shanghai ranking. (Photo: Susi Lindig) (large view)

In mid-August the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai released the much-anticipated global universities ranking, formally known as the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU or Shanghai ranking). For ETH Zurich, the results are very gratifying. In the 20th place, the Swiss university moved up three spots, eliminating the University of Tokyo from the top 20.

Thanks to the Shanghai ranking, ETH Zurich remains the best university in continental Europe. Other Swiss universities that made the top 100 include the University of Zurich (60), University of Geneva (69) and University of Basel (83). EPFL ranked between 101-150.

Top four from the US

As usual, American universities continue to place high in the ranking. Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley made the winner’s rostrum, while MIT placed fourth slipping from third place last year. The first European institution to make the roster was the University of Cambridge (UK), following in fifth place.

In terms of subject areas, ETH Zurich remains a top institution for studying chemistry, holding on to its fifth place position worldwide. In Physics, ETH ranked 17th, in Computer Science 26th and mathematics 32nd. Broader-ranging subject areas were also rated. In Engineering and Computer Science, ETH Zurich came in 39th place (EPFL ranked 15th), for science and mathematics in eighth.

More publications than competitors

The climb to 20th place was mainly due to an increase of ETH publications. "The increasing volume of publications is positive sign for ETH Zurich," says Urs Hugentobler. "Other universities seem to slightly be losing ground in this particular category." All Nature and Science publications between 2008 and 2012 were considered in the scoring of this indicator. In addition, the amount of papers indexed by Science Citation Index-Expanded (SCIE) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) were key performance indicators.

The Shanghai ranking was first published in 2003 and now appears every year. Universities are evaluated based on several indicators of academic or research performance, such as the number of Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals received by alumni and faculty scientists. The amount of papers published in Nature and Science, the number of highly cited researchers as well as papers indexed in major citation indices also give weight to the overall ranking. Critics of ARWU criticize the fact that teaching performance, which is much more difficult to measure, plays no significant role. Teaching-intensive universities tend to receive lower rankings than those that rely primarily on scientific research.

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