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Times Higher Education (THE) release 2021 World University Rankings

SEP 04, 2020 • 9 min read

Leading UK and US universities move up the list with the University of Oxford topping the list for the fifth consecutive year!

Crimson Education strategic partner and globally respected university rankings authority, Times Higher Education (THE), has released their much anticipated annual world university rankings for 2021.

The list not only consolidates the long held pattern of dominance by US and UK institutions, but evidences their rise in global standings with the two regions now holding 18 of the Top 20 spots.

Coming in at number one is the University of Oxford, closely followed by the US’s Stanford and Harvard universities. The two leaders in technology education, Caltech and MIT take out positions 4 and 5, with the UK’s University of Cambridge, the rising UC Berkeley and Ivy League stalwarts Yale and Princeton rounding out the Top 9.

Out of the 1,500 universities across 93 countries and regions ranked — the largest and most diverse university rankings to date — the top 20 came in as follows:

1. University of Oxford

2. Stanford University

3. Harvard University

4. California Institute of Technology

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6. University of Cambridge

7. University of California, Berkeley

8. Yale University

9. Princeton University

10. University of Chicago

11. Imperial College London

12. Johns Hopkins University

13. University of Pennsylvania

14. ETH Zurich

15. University of California, Los Angeles

16. UCL

17. Columbia University

18. University of Toronto

19. Cornell University

=20. Duke University

=20. Tsinghua University

As mentioned, a highlight was the University of California, Berkeley’s six place jump to be included in the Top 10, with the hallowed Ivy League also improving overall holding 6 places in the Top 20.

China’s Tsinghua University and Canada’s University of Toronto also made it into the Top 20.


Conceptually, THE create their ranking system to comprehensively assess universities across the core missions of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The 13 carefully selected and calibrated performance indicators hope to provide the most fair, comprehensive and balanced comparisons within these headings, and include:


  • Reputation survey: 15%
  • Staff-to-student ratio: 4.5%
  • Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio: 2.25%
  • Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio: 6%
  • Institutional income: 2.25%

Research (volume, income and reputation): 30%

  • Reputation survey: 18%
  • Research income: 6%
  • Research productivity: 6%

Citations (research influence): 30%

  • Average citations per year (last 5 years) 30%

(Note that to measure citations, THE partnered with bibliometric data supplier Elsevier to capture a staggering 86 million citations!)

International outlook (staff, students, research): 7.5%

  • Proportion of international students: 2.5%
  • Proportion of international staff: 2.5%
  • International collaboration: 2.5%

Industry income (knowledge transfer): 2.5%

  • Research Income: 2.5%


In order to reach their final tally, THE takes a standardisation approach for each indicator, and then combines the indicators for an overall score for each university. For example, contributing to Oxford’s winning overall score of 95.6 was the highest score for research with 99.6.

Of course, trying to calculate the performance of universities is in itself a subjective exercise, and it is important to remember that rankings, while useful indicators of academic performance and reputation, cannot capture all the things you might be looking for in a university. In other words, it is important that you target the right university for you!

At Crimson we are dedicated to helping students find their best-fit university, which starts with looking at each institution and learning as much as possible about where they are, what majors and courses resonate, and exactly what they have to offer.

For more help picking your perfect university, check out our university profiles on some of the US and UK’s top universities, or try our US and UK College Admissions Calculators to generate a list of recommended colleges that are the best fit for you.

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