Politics 5 September 2011 The QS World University Rankings are a load of old baloney The University of Cambridge is not the best university in the world. Sign up for our weekly email * Print HTML The University of Cambridge is the best university in the world, according to the eighth annual QS World University Rankings for 2011/2012, out today. Oxford came fifth in the tables and there is a total of five UK universities in the top 20. What a load of old baloney. Here are the rankings: 1. University of Cambridge 2. Harvard University 3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4. Yale University 5. University of Oxford 6. Imperial College London 7. UCL (University College London) 8. University of Chicago 9. University of Pennsylvania 10. Columbia University 11. Stanford University 12. California Institute of Technology 13. Princeton University 14. University of Michigan 15. Cornell University 16. Johns Hopkins University 17. McGill University18. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology19 Duke University 20 University of Edinburgh This ranking is complete rubbish and nobody should place any credence in it. The results are based on an entirely flawed methodology that underweights the quality of research and overweights fluff: 40 per cent -- academic reputation from a global survey10 per cent -- from employer reputation20 per cent -- from citations by faculty20 per cent -- from student faculty ratio5 per cent -- proportion of foreign students5 per cent -- proportion of foreign faculty The methodology is designed to underweight the performance of US universities that tend not to have a high proportion of foreign students or foreign faculty members -- but who cares about that? It is unclear whether having more foreign students and faculty should even have a positive rank; less is probably better. So, the UK faculty all say they are wonderful, but that isn't a plausible measure of quality. Another way to improve the rankings of UK universities would be to replace the 20 per cent for citations with a 20 per cent weight to any university whose name started with the letters CAM or OXF; the ranking is that absurd. Or they could weight by the proportion of buildings on the campuses built before 1500. A more realistic ranking is provided by the University of Shanghai, that ranks the quality and quantity of research output of its faculty as well as the receipt of Nobel Prizes and field medals by both its faculty and alumni heavily. The number of faculty members from Botswana and the number of students from Chile quite rightly have zero impact, which is as it should be. Here are the weights used in their much more believable methodology: Criteria Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals -- 10 per centFaculty of an institution winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals -- 20 per centHighly cited researchers in 21 broad subject categories -- 20 per centResearch Output Papers published in Nature and Science -- 20 per centPapers indexed in Science Citation Index-expanded and Social Science Citation Index -- 20 per centPer Capita Performance Per capita academic performance of an institution -- 10 per centTotal 100 per cent Note that since 2000, the faculty of the University of Cambridge has been awarded one Nobel Prize, in 2010, which was its first since 1984, while UCL and Oxford have both had none. Indeed, the University of Oxford's faculty hasn't received one since 1973. By contrast, MIT and Columbia have both had five; UC Berkeley has had four while Stanford, Rockefeller, Johns Hopkins, Chicago and Princeton have each had two and Harvard one. Here is Shanghai University's much more believable 2010 ranking that ranks Cambridge fifth and Oxford tenth, and these are the only two UK universities in the top 20: 1. Harvard University2. University of California, Berkeley3. Stanford University4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)5. University of Cambridge6. California Institute of Technology7. Princeton University8. Columbia University9. University of Chicago10. University of Oxford11. Yale University12. Cornell University13. University of California, Los Angeles14. University of California, San Diego15. University of Pennsylvania16. University of Washington17. University of Wisconsin, Madison18. The Johns Hopkins University18. University of California, San Francisco20. University of Tokyo The QS is a flawed index and should be ignored. The University of Cambridge is not the best university in the world. › Britain's links to the torture of Libyans to be "investigated" David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire Subscribe from just £1 per issue More Related articles Rowan Williams on Stefan Collini: against the market in universities Solving the teaching crisis has to start with treating us like professionals Why do Tories love grammar schools?