What is a university ranking?

International university rankings evaluate the amount and impact of research conducted at institutions of higher education, the quality of teaching, the reputation of the institutions in question among researchers and employers as well as the extent of their international outlook. 

The oldest and most well-known is the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, published annually since 2003. Other famous rankings include the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, the QS World University Ranking and the National Taiwan University Ranking. All in all, there are a dozen or so such rankings using different source material and methodologies.

In a university ranking the evaluation is often condensed to one or a few scores. When evaluating research, the rankings typically measure only the number and citations of English-language publications, making it difficult for universities from non-English-speaking countries to reach the top positions. Despite their shortcomings, rankings have a significant impact on the international reputation and public image of universities. The University of Helsinki also monitors its performance in different rankings and seeks to improve it.

Only a few Nordic universities have reached the top 100. In nearly all of the most important rankings, the University of Helsinki places in the 50-100 range, elevating it to the top 0.5% of the world's universities.

The Shanghai ranking (ARWU)

Published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Academic Ranking of World Universities is based on indicators measuring the universities' research and historical reputations. The indicators and their impact on the score are as follows:
-  An alumnus or alumna of the university is a Nobel or Fields laureate, 10%
– A researcher has received a Nobel prize or a Fields Medal while working at the university, 20%
– Citation indices of articles, 20%
– Articles in the journals Nature or Science, 20%
– Highly cited (top 1%) scientists, 20%
– Ratio of the above achievements to number of academic staff, 10%

The University of Helsinki has had the most success in the citation indices and the least in indicators related to the Nobel Prize and Fields Medal. This ranking is fairly stable, and the positions of universities tend not to change rapidly. Area- and field-specific versions also exist.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking

In its current iteration, the Times Higher Education ranking has been published since 2010. The ranking factors and their impact on the score are as follows:

Teaching, 30%
– Reputation (the external reputation of the university’s teaching)
– Ratio of academic staff to teachers
– Ratio of doctoral degrees to lower-level degrees
– Ratio of doctoral degrees to academic staff
– Ratio of income to academic staff

Research, 30%
– Reputation (the external reputation of the university’s research)
– Ratio of publications to academic staff
– Ratio of research funding to academic staff

Citations, 30%
Industry connections, 2.5%
International outlook, 7.5%

Of the above indicators, the University of Helsinki has received its highest evaluations for citations and lowest for industry connections. The THE ranking has been fairly stable. In 2015, the ranking switched from using the Web of Science publication database to the Scopus database, which was reflected in the results.

The QS ranking

Previously published through Times Higher Education, the QS ranking is now independent and carries the name of its founding organisation, Quacquarelli Symonds. The indicators used in the QS ranking and their impact on the score are as follows:
- The university’s reputation among other universities, 40%
– The university’s reputation among employers, 10%
– Ratio of citations to academic staff, 20%
– Ratio of teachers to students, 20%
– International outlook (international students and staff), 10%

The University of Helsinki has received its highest evaluations for the ratio of teachers to students and lowest for the number of international students. The new calculation method for the citation index, adopted in 2015, was unfavourable with respect to the University of Helsinki's strengths and caused the University's evaluation to dip. The QS ranking displays more annual fluctuation than the other rankings, since it places the main emphasis on subjective reputation surveys. The group of respondents in the reputation survey changes every year.

The Taiwan ranking

The Taiwan ranking is based exclusively on research and is less known than the previously discussed rankings. Its strength lies in its diversity of indicators, and it is thus supremely suited to evaluating research-focused universities. The indicators and their impact on the score are as follows:
- Number of articles during the past 11 years, 10%
– Number of articles during the past year, 15%
– Number of citations during the past 11 years, 15%
– Number of citations during the past two years, 10%
– Average number of citations for the past 11-year period, 10%
– The h index during the past year, 10%
– Number of highly-cited articles during the past 11 years, 15%
– Number of articles in high-impact publications during the past year, 15%

The University of Helsinki has received its best evaluation for the number of citations during the past 11 years and the h index. The weakest indicator for the University was the average number of citations for the past 11-year period. Due to its varied and partially long-term indicators, the evaluation of a single university in the Taiwan ranking tends to be stable.

The University of Helsinki’s performance in the most important rankings

The table below lists the University of Helsinki’s positions in the most important rankings. The table will be updated as new results are published. The Shanghai ranking is published in August and is followed by QS, THE and Taiwan later in the autumn.




Times (THE)


2018 57 110   79
2017 56 102 90 81
2016 56 91 91 71
2015 67 96 76 69
2014 73 67 103 68
2013 76 69 100 64
2012 73 78 109 56
2011 74 89 91 66
2010 72 75 102 47
2009 72 108   48
2008 68 91   50
2007 73 100   52
2006 74 116    
2005 76 62    
2004 72 129    
2003 74      

Head of International Affairs Markus Laitinen and Senior Planning Officer Markku Javanainen (email: first last helsinki  fi) liaise with the organisations that produce these rankings. 

Read more: Recipe for a ranking