World University Rankings 2014/15

This year’s World Science Day for Peace and Development, established by UNESCO in 2001, is promoting Quality Science Education: ensuring a sustainable future for all. According to UNESCO, the day “offers an opportunity to mobilize various partners to highlight the important role of science in society and to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues and the relevance of science in their daily lives”. While the importance of science is less disputed, the reality of ensuring scientific progress through excellent academic education remains a highly unequal matter, as many global academic rankings show.
This feature is an update to the work originally compiled last year in collaboration with Phil Baty of Times Higher Education and which first appeared in the World University Rankings. In this update I put the latest rankings results for 2014/15 into a human and economic perspective. The first two maps show the top 200 Universities from the Ranking displayed on two different kinds of gridded cartograms:

THE World University Ranking maps
(click for larger version)

It is clear that the world’s best universities are remain concentrated in the developed world (with most of the top 200 found in North America and Western Europe), but these two heavily distorted world maps are designed to put the results of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15 into a clearer global context.
The images – known as gridded cartogram transformations – look at the top performing universities in relation to the size of each country’s population (see the top map on the image above) and economic productivity measured by gross domestic product (see the bottom map on the image above). The maps put the rankings into the perspective of the human and economic shapes of the world.
Consider the population map. The land area is resized so that each space in the map relates to an equal number of people no matter where you look. Sparsely populated spaces shrink in size, highly populated areas expand, while the underlying grid ensures that the geographic location of each area is preserved. This allows us accurately to map the locations of the top 200 universities into these transformed spaces.
On this map, the pink circles represent THE’s world-ranked institutions. The largest circles represent universities in the top 25, while the smallest represent those ranked from 151st to 200th.
In the GDP map, the land area is resized so that each space relates to an equal amount of output, so less economically active areas (as measured by GDP, not by people’s real activity) shrink. Here, the blue circles represent THE’s world-ranked institutions but according to their overall scores (not their rankings positions, as with the population map). The largest blue circles represent those institutions scoring between 90 and 100 points overall, with the smallest representing those scoring under 50 points.
In the wealthy parts of the world, we see a more even distribution of the top academic institutions, while at the same time the GDP map shows that there are some more clustered patterns even in the ‘developed’ world when it comes to their locations in relation to economically active spaces.
Huge global inequality becomes highly visible in these maps, as they do not show land area, but rather where people live and work – and where they are more excluded from access to ‘top’ education, even in the emerging economies and most populated countries of China and India.
In addition to these updated maps from last year’s publication I made some further analysis of the score data. The following two maps include the calculation of the kernel density of the overall point score across the globe in the visualisation. The more universities and the higher their average score is, the higher the kernel density becomes. I then plotted the results on both, the GDP and the population cartograms giving an even faster visual impression of where academia around the world is seen as being ‘excellent’ according to the THE rankings:

THE World University Ranking maps
(click for larger version)

In the last map, I used the kernel density estimations themselves for a gridded cartogram transformation, resulting in the most extreme distortion of this map series as in this image each grid cell is resized according to the absolute values derived from the distribution of overall scores in the top 200 of the rankings. Those areas having the highest density of highly scored universities are there for the ones that stand out in this map. This is the image of an unequal elite, an image of the persisting inequalities in global university education:

THE World University Ranking maps
(click for larger version)

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin D. Hennig and Phil Baty and is property of the authors and Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

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