Competition Among Top-500 Ranked Universities Intensifies

top-500 university rankings US UK Australia Canada

We often read about US universities dominating the world-class universities rankings. However, US seems to be losing its leadership and dominance in world class universities over the years.

Over the last several years, national initiatives driven by world-class university ambitions have been aligning funding and autonomy to rankings (e.g. China, Russia, Japan). One of the recent entrants in this race is India with its announcement of Institutions of Eminence list.

However, breaking into the club of top-500 is a long-arduous journey requiring patience, persistence, and resources. An analysis of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU 2019) of four English-speaking destinations shows their dominance in the top-500 list (43% of all top-500 universities).

Also, it is becoming increasingly competitive to not only break into the list but also maintain the “membership” of top-500 universities club. For example, in the last ten years, 15 US universities dropped out of the top-500 list.

Here are the highlights:

  • Four English-speaking countries comprise 43% of all top-500 universities even though they form only 6% of the world’s population
  • Australia is home to the highest density of top-500 universities by a significant margin (even Australia is facing a threat to maintain its competitiveness in global rankings)
  • US does not fare well in global rankings of top-500 when one considers population as a proxy for the size of higher education system

In ten years (2009-2019):

  • 15 US universities and four universities from Canada and the UK dropped out of top-500
  • Six more Australian universities entered top-500

Accounting for population, the US needs additional:

  • 164 universities or a total of 301 universities in top-500 to match-up with Australian density of top-500 universities
  • 108 universities or a total of 245 universities in top-500 to match-up with British density of top-500 universities
  • 85 universities or a total of 222 universities in top-500 to match-up with Canadian density of top-500 universities

Why the US lags behind Australia by such a large margin and continues to slip? Will American, British and Canadian universities regain their placement in the top-500 rankings? What are the lessons from Australia? What are the implications for non-English speaking destinations aiming to break into top-500 rankings?

Rahul Choudaha, Ph.D.