Two-thirds Of Us Universities Fall In QS World Rankings

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The United States still hosts many of the world’s top universities, but two-thirds of ranked US institutions have dropped places, indicating a “noticeable trend” in the decline of their global standing, according to QS’s analysis of the QS World University Rankings 2025 released on 4 June.

Top US institutions and their performance:

• Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Remains the world’s top university for the 13th consecutive year, achieving perfect scores in multiple indicators including academic and employer reputation.

• Harvard University: Ranked 4th, leading globally in several metrics including academic reputation and citations per faculty.

• Stanford University: Ranked 6th, maintaining its strong performance.

• California Institute of Technology (Caltech): Returned to the top ten, now ranked 10th.

Despite these top performers, the broader trend for US universities is concerning. Most American institutions have dropped in rank with significant declines in academic reputation and research impact.

Universities such as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago have notably slipped in the rankings – Berkeley dropping out of the top 10 from 10th to 12th and Chicago dropping out of the top 20 by falling ten places to 21st.

Ben Sowter, QS senior vice-president, said: “If one were to tell a story of the last two decades of global higher education, it would be of the US managing to remain pre-eminent – more of the world’s very best universities, more universities capable of being included in a global ranking than any other nation – amidst intensifying ambition from Asia’s great powers, the Gulf States, and Latin America.

“This year offers the starkest signal yet that there is no guarantee whatsoever that the US’ privileged position can withstand this ambition indefinitely.”

The 2025 QS World University Rankings suggests that the beneficiaries of the US’ declining position are to be found primarily in Asia:

China’s Tsinghua University (20th) returns to the top 20 at the University of Chicago’s expense, and 68% of China’s ranked universities have improved their position year-on-year.

The only other two new entries into the global top-20 are also Asian: Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (15th, up from joint-26th) and the University of Hong Kong (17th, also up from joint-26th).

Among countries, China and India saw the most upward movement, both in terms of the number of institutions moving upwards and the number of significant moves (defined as 10 places or more).Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia also made notable gains.

While its best universities do not yet compete with the United States’ best, all of India’s ten highest-ranked universities have improved their position year-on-year.

Overall, 71% of Asian universities have improved their ranking or remain stable. Among China’s top five universities, four improved their rankings, with Peking University rising to 14th place. Sixty eight percent of Chinese universities have risen in the rankings compared to 61% of Indian universities. India has increased its ranked universities by 318% over the past decade, from 11 in 2015 to 46 in 2025.

Jessica Turner, QS CEO, said the noteworthy Indian – and other Asian – improvements will resonate with those involved in US higher education.

“For the time being Indian interest in studying in the United States remains high, with a 35% year-on-year increase in the number of Indian students pursuing their study goals in the US,” she noted.

“However, Indian families and students alike are conscious that doing so represents a significant financial investment – one much greater than would be sustained were they to study either at home, or regionally,” she added.

“As both domestic and regional institutions continue to improve, it is likely that India’s tertiary-age population will respond to excellence signals by exploring, and potentially pursuing, the alternatives. With both enrolment numbers and the financial position of many American institutions ringing alarm bells, the US cannot afford to sacrifice its allure among the global international student community,” she said.

One dampener in Asia is the performance of Japan where 41 of the country’s 49 institutions moved down.

Despite the Asian successes, Australia still leads the International Research Network in the Asia-Pacific, holding nine of the top 10 positions and three institutions among the global top 20.

In Europe the UK has three of the world’s top five universities and excels in the International Student Ratio, ranking second globally behind Saudi Arabia.

Notably, Imperial College London has now surpassed Oxbridge to become the top ranked UK university. But worryingly 58% of UK institutions have declined.

Turner said: “In the decade since Imperial College London was last crowned the United Kingdom’s leading university, the country’s sector has relentlessly continued to achieve world-leading performances despite the turbulence.

“However, this year’s results suggest that British higher education has limited capacity remaining to continue excelling in the face of funding shortages and drops in student applications.”

Some 77% of French universities have improved their rankings for Employment Outcomes.

German universities excel in both Academic and Employer Reputation. Five German universities rank among the world’s top 100 in these indicators, with two in the top 50. No other European country has as many universities in these tiers for either Academic or Employer Reputation.

In continental Europe, Hungary has the highest proportion of improving universities among countries with more than 10 ranked institutions, followed closely by Spain.

Universities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE have made substantial gains, with several institutions achieving their highest-ever rankings. Nine out of 12 UAE universities have improved

The University of Cape Town, ranked 171st, is the leading university in Africa. Eighty five percent of the region’s universities either improve or remain stable: the best performances across all the main five regions.

Latin America boasts four top-100 universities: Universidad de Buenos Aires, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and Universidade de São Paulo. However, a high percentage of universities from Mexico and Colombia moved down.

US and UK dominate top tier

Both the US and UK had four institutions in the top ten, but the US had eight in the top 20 compared to four from the UK and two each from Australia and China (Mainland), reflecting US pre-eminence.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) remains top, followed by ICL and University of Oxford (both UK), Harvard University (US), University of Cambridge (UK), Stanford University (US), ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Switzerland), National University of Singapore (Singapore), UCL (UK) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) (US).

The US had the most (197) ranked institutions, followed by the UK (90) and China (Mainland) (71).

However, the metropolitan regions of the world with the most ranked institutions were Seoul (23), Moscow (20), London (19), Tokyo (18), Beijing (16), Santiago (13), Mexico City (12), New York (12), Paris (12) and Buenos Aires, Dhaka, Lima, Shanghai and Taipei (all with 10 each).

This year there are 1500 ranked institutions from 106 countries but only 21 newly ranked institutions. The country with the most debutants was Saudi Arabia, with four, followed by India with three and two each from Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The highest debutant is the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) (United Arab Emirates), which enters the rankings at 485. The only other institution breaking into the Top 500 was Iran’s Isfahan University of Technology.

Ranking indicators weighted

The universities are ranked based on nine weighted indicators: academic reputation 30%, employer reputation15%, faculty:student ratio 10%, citations per faculty 20%, international faculty ratio 5%, nternational student ratio 5%, international research ratio (the strength of an institution’s research partnerships measured through internationally co-authored publications) 5%, employment outcomes 5%, sustainability 5%.

The Employment Outcomes indicator looks at both the percentage of students who move into paid work within 15 months of graduating, and the success of an institution’s graduates through a review of their public achievements whether as business leaders, politicians or award winners and so on.

QS notes that the dataset for sustainability has “evolved dramatically” since it was introduced last year and in the latest edition only 2% of institutions have no data against them.

“This has already impacted the rankings and means that institutions cannot fall back on the excuse that data gaps have created an unfair impression of them,” QS says.

According to QS, online media coverage tracked via Meltwater shows QS had more than double the coverage of THE in 2023, with 124,500 media mentions compared with 57,900.

It also claims to be the “only major world university ranking” to include sustainability as an indicator.

University World News

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