THE World University Rankings 2021: people power needed like never before

Talent and ingenuity will be more?important than ever to universities worldwide as they face a host of unprecedented challenges, says Ellie Bothwell

September 2, 2020
Source: Getty

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2021


When the University of Oxford first topped the Times Higher Education World University Rankings four years ago, vice-chancellor Louise Richardson said that maintaining its position as one of the best universities in the world was “really quite simple”: it came down to recruiting the best talent.

“Any university is only as good as the academics it can attract,” she said.

No one would claim that 2020 has been a simple year for universities. From moving to remote teaching models almost overnight and implementing new safety procedures on campus to pursuing a Covid-19 vaccine and overhauling financial and research strategies, university leaders have been faced with incredibly complex challenges.

But as Oxford leads the rankings for a fifth consecutive year, Richardson maintains her view that recruiting the best scholars and the best students will be the core strategy for keeping the university in the strongest possible position after the pandemic.

“That has been the secret of our success in the past and will be the key to our success in the future,” she says.

The data behind the THE World University Rankings 2021 pre-date the current crisis, but we’ve spoken to key people at some of the world’s top universities to discover how they have been affected by Covid-19 and to get a glimpse of their strategies for the future.

Institutions that have achieved the strongest scores for teaching, research, industry links and internationalisation also share their insights on how these four pillars of university activity might change in the long term, while seven university presidents – from the US, the UK, South Korea, Australia, South Africa and the Netherlands – address some of the most pressing questions in global higher education, from developing new models for global partnerships to building a more sustainable research system.

As ever, the results of the rankings themselves afford plenty of valuable insights. Perhaps the most eye-catching outcome is that an Asian university is ranked in the top 20 for the first time under the current methodology (launched in 2011). Tsinghua University now occupies joint 20th, up from 23rd last year, alongside the US’ Duke University.

Although the rankings data cover a period before the emergence of the novel coronavirus, the data collection period overlapped with the start of the pandemic. Despite this intense disruption, a remarkable 1,527 universities from 93 countries are included in the rankings this year, making it our biggest table yet.

I would like to extend a big thank you to all the universities worldwide that took the time and effort to participate. We hope you find our data and insights useful as you continue the complex task of steering your institutions through this global crisis.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com


Countries/regions represented in the top 200

Country/region

Number of institutions in top 200

Top institution

Rank

United States

59

Stanford University

2

United Kingdom

29

University of Oxford

1

Germany

21

LMU Munich

32

Australia

12

University of Melbourne

31

Netherlands

11

Wageningen University & Research

=62

Canada

8

University of Toronto

18

China

7

Tsinghua University

=20

South Korea

7

Seoul National University

60

Switzerland

7

ETH Zurich

14

France

5

Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris

46

Hong Kong

5

University of Hong Kong

39

Sweden

5

Karolinska Institute

=36

Belgium

4

KU Leuven

45

Denmark

3

University of Copenhagen

84

Italy

3

University of Bologna

=167

Spain

3

Pompeu Fabra University

=152

Japan

2

The University of Tokyo

=36

Singapore

2

National University of Singapore

25

Austria

1

University of Vienna

=164

Finland

1

University of Helsinki

=98

Israel

1

Tel Aviv University

=191

New Zealand

1

University of Auckland

=147

Norway

1

University of Oslo

=127

Republic of Ireland

1

Trinity College Dublin

=155

Russian Federation

1

Lomonosov Moscow State University

=174

South Africa

1

University of Cape Town

=155

Taiwan

1

National Taiwan University

97

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