World University Rankings 2024: methodology

The methodology for the 20th edition of the World University Rankings has been significantly updated to reflect the outputs of the diverse range of research-intensive universities across the world

September 20, 2023
Elements from the World University Rankings 2024 supplement cover
Source: Sam Chivers

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2024

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are the only global performance tables that judge research-intensive universities across all their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

This year’s methodology, for the 20th edition of the World University Rankings, has been significantly updated, so that it continues to reflect the outputs of the diverse range of research-intensive universities across the world, now and in the future.

We have moved from 13 to 18 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments. One of the metrics (study abroad) currently has zero weight but will be counted in future (see below).

The performance indicators are still grouped into five areas, although the names of these have been tweaked: Teaching (the learning environment); Research environment (volume, income and reputation); Research quality (citation impact, research strength, research excellence and research influence); International outlook (staff, students and research); and Industry (income and patents).

The full methodology is published in the file at the bottom of this page.

Teaching (the learning environment): 29.5%

  • Teaching reputation: 15%
  • Staff-to-student ratio: 4.5%
  • Doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratio: 2%
  • Doctorates-awarded-to-academic-staff ratio: 5.5%
  • Institutional income: 2.5%

The most recent Academic Reputation Survey (run annually, this year conducted by THE) that underpins this category was carried out between October 2022 and January 2023. We have run the survey to ensure a balanced spread of responses across disciplines and countries. Where disciplines or countries were over- or under-represented, THE’s data team weighted the responses to fully reflect the global distribution of scholars. The 2023 data are combined with the results of the 2022 survey, giving more than 500,000 votes to universities in 166 countries. Votes come from more than 68,000 cited academics.

As well as giving a sense of how committed an institution is to nurturing the next generation of academics, a high proportion of postgraduate research students also suggests the provision of teaching at the highest level that is thus attractive to graduates and effective at developing them. This indicator is normalised to take account of a university’s unique subject mix, reflecting that the volume of doctoral awards varies by discipline.

Institutional income is scaled against academic staff numbers and normalised for purchasing-power parity (PPP). It indicates an institution’s general status and gives a broad sense of the infrastructure and facilities available to students and staff.

Research environment: 29%

  • Research reputation: 18%
  • Research income: 5.5%
  • Research productivity: 5.5%

The most prominent indicator in this category looks at a university’s reputation for research excellence among its peers, based on the responses to our annual Academic Reputation Survey (see above).

Research income is scaled against academic staff numbers and adjusted for purchasing-power parity (PPP). This is a controversial indicator because it can be influenced by national policy and economic circumstances. But income is crucial to the development of world-class research, and because much of it is subject to competition and judged by peer review, our experts suggested that it was a valid measure. This indicator is fully normalised to take account of each university’s distinct subject profile, reflecting the fact that research grants in science subjects are often bigger than those awarded for the highest-quality social science, arts and humanities research.

To measure productivity, we count the number of publications published in the academic journals indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus database per scholar, scaled for institutional size and normalised for subject. This gives a sense of the university’s ability to get papers published in quality peer-reviewed journals. From the 2018 rankings, we devised a method to give credit for papers that are published in subjects where a university declares no staff.

Research quality: 30%

  • Citation impact: 15%
  • Research strength: 5%
  • Research excellence: 5%
  • Research influence: 5%

Our research quality pillar looks at universities’ role in spreading new knowledge and ideas.

We examine citation impact by capturing the average number of times a university’s published work is cited by scholars globally. This year, our bibliometric data supplier Elsevier examined more than 134 million citations to 16.5 million journal articles, article reviews, conference proceedings, books and book chapters published over five years. The data include more than 27,950 active peer-reviewed journals indexed by Elsevier’s Scopus database and all indexed publications between 2018 and 2022. Citations to these publications made in the six years from 2018 to 2023 are also collected.

The citations help to show us how much each university is contributing to the sum of human knowledge: they tell us whose research has stood out, has been picked up and built on by other scholars and, most importantly, has been shared around the global scholarly community to expand the boundaries of our understanding, irrespective of discipline.

The data are normalised to reflect variations in citation volume between different subject areas. This means that institutions with high levels of research activity in subjects with traditionally high citation counts do not gain an unfair advantage.

We have blended equal measures of a country-adjusted and non-country-adjusted raw measure of citations scores.

Three new research quality measures have been added in 2023. Research strength calculates the 75th percentile of field-weighted citation impact – a very robust guide to how strong typical research is.

Research excellence looks at the number of research publications in the top 10 per cent for field-weighted citation impact worldwide – a guide to the amount of world-leading research at an institution. It is normalised by year, subject and staff numbers.

Research influence helps us to understand when research is recognised in turn by the most influential research in the world – a broader look at excellence. The idea behind the metric is that the value of citations is not equal: a citation from an “important” paper is more significant than a citation from an “unimportant” one. We use an iterative method to measure the importance of a paper by not only counting the number of citations but also taking into account the importance of the citing papers. We also consider the subject of the research, as different disciplines have different citation patterns.

International outlook: 7.5%

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

The ability of a university to attract undergraduates, postgraduates and faculty from all over the planet is key to its success on the world stage. In the third international indicator, we calculate the proportion of a university’s total relevant publications that have at least one international co-author and reward higher volumes. This indicator is normalised to account for a university’s subject mix and uses the same five-year window as the “Research quality” category.

Large countries have been disadvantaged compared to small countries in our international metrics, in that it is “easier” for staff and students in small countries to work or study abroad.​ This has led us to change our normalisation approach for the three measures in 2023, henceforth taking into consideration the population of a country when evaluating these metrics.

A study abroad metric – assessing the provision of international learning opportunities for domestic students – complements the International Outlook pillar, but is currently given a weight of 0%. The zero weight is a temporary provision due to the impact of Covid-19 on international travel. 

Industry: 4%

  • Industry income: 2%
  • Patents: 2%

A university’s ability to help industry with innovations, inventions and consultancy has become a core mission of the contemporary global academy. The industry income metric seeks to capture such knowledge-transfer activity by looking at how much research income an institution earns from industry (adjusted for PPP), scaled against the number of academic staff it employs.

The metric suggests the extent to which businesses are willing to pay for research and a university’s ability to attract funding in the commercial marketplace – useful indicators of institutional quality.

But the extent to which universities are supporting their national economies through technology transfer is an area that deserves greater recognition. The patents metric, introduced in 2023, is defined as the number of patents from any source that cite research conducted by the university.

The data are provided by Elsevier and relate to patents published between 2018 and 2022 (not research published between these dates). Patents are sourced from the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the European Patent Office, and the patent offices of the US, the UK and Japan.

This measure is subject-weighted to avoid penalising universities producing research in fields low in patents, and scaled for institutional size.


Universities can be excluded from the World University Rankings if they do not teach undergraduates, or if their research output amounted to fewer than 1,000 relevant publications between 2018 and 2022 (with a minimum of 150 a year). Universities can also be excluded if 80 per cent or more of their research output is exclusively in one of our 11 subject areas.

Universities at the bottom of the table that are listed as having “reporter” status provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank. More information here.

Data collection

Institutions provide and sign off their institutional data for use in the rankings. On the rare occasions when a particular data point at a subject level is not provided, we use an estimate calculated from the overall data point and any available subject-level data point. If a metric score cannot be calculated because of missing data points, it is imputed using a conservative estimate. By doing this, we avoid penalising an institution too harshly with a “zero” value for data that it overlooks or does not provide, but we do not reward it for withholding them.

Getting to the final result

Moving from a series of specific data points to indicators, and finally to a total score for an institution, requires us to match values that represent fundamentally different data. To do this, we use a standardisation approach for each indicator, and then combine the indicators in the proportions we detail above.

The standardisation approach we use is based on the distribution of data within a particular indicator, where we calculate a cumulative probability function, and evaluate where a particular institution’s indicator sits within that function.

For most metrics, we calculate the cumulative probability function using a version of Z-scoring. The distribution of data in the metrics on teaching reputation, research reputation, research excellence, research influence and patents requires us to use an exponential component.

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