The University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and Yale University tied for second position.
Harvard also claimed top status within the categories of life sciences and biomedicine, social sciences, and arts and humanities. The University ranked fourth in natural sciences, and 15th among top technological universities. In that last category, the only one in which Harvard did not make the top five, Cambridge neighbor Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the pack.
The education company Quacquarelli Symonds compiles the data used to produce the rankings, known as the THES-QS World University Rankings.
Martin Ince, contributing editor for THES and the rankings’ 2007 editor, said Harvard kept the top position on the list because of its excellence in several categories.
“It does undoubtedly have some of the cleverest academics in a whole range of subjects, with the one exception of engineering,” Ince said. “In addition, it’s very liked by employers. It has got a good ratio of faculty to students.”
Ince mentioned that Harvard’s endowment, larger in magnitude than any other academic institutions on the list, is a contributing factor to Harvard’s continuing excellence. However, he added that it is not Harvard’s wealth that makes the university the leading world institution.
“Of course it’s important to have money, but you’ve got to spend it cleverly, and Harvard has done that,” Ince said.
Marlyn E. McGrath ‘70-’73, director of admissions for Harvard College, said that while the University is flattered by the recognition, the rankings are not a main concern for Harvard.
“Most of us who have had a lot of experience in this line of work would be crazy to take this seriously,” McGrath said.
In contrast, Imperial College London proudly touted its climb from ninth to fifth place on its website.
Ince said the list caters to the interests of a wide audience, including students, companies, and the universities themselves.
“There’s certainly more interest [this year] than there ever was,” Ince said.
Richard W. Bischoff, director of admissions at the California Institute of Technology, said that rankings can shape students’ initial consideration of a school. But he also echoed McGrath’s comments, saying that while it is pleasing to be recognized, students’ final decisions do not depend on them.
The universities are evaluated on six criteria: peer review, recruiter review, excellence in research based on citations, student to faculty ratio, international faculty ratio, and international student ratio. THES and QS Quacquarelli chose criteria that they thought could be evaluated regardless of location.
Universities from 28 countries are included in the list. The top 10 institutions, however, are limited in location to the U.S. and the United Kingdom. These institutions are set apart by the fact that they maintain academic independence despite receiving state funds, Ince said.
“I think you’ll get more institutions that will look like Oxford or Harvard in the future,” Ince said.