Unequal Elite: World University Rankings 2016/17

Education and money undoubtedly go hand in hand. A closer look at the metrics that go into the creation of higher education rankings such as the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings (THE WUR) proofs just the point that without adequate resources and funding global success can hardly be achieved. The following map which was created by analysing data of the 2016/17 World University Ranking data with regards to its spatial distribution of the most successful universities in this ranking. The map is a gridded cartogram which is reshaped to show national wealth, measured by gross domestic product. The land area in each country has been resized to reflect economic output. North America and Western Europe bugle to dominate this world map, while the entire continent of Africa virtually disappears. On this new world map, all the universities in the THE World University Rankings are plotted, with the larger, red dots representing world’s top 50 universities and the smaller circles representing the lower ranks:

Gridded cartogram projection of the THE World University Rankings 2016/17 showing GDP
(click for larger version)

The fact that money talks in global higher education becomes visible in its geographical dimension in these maps. The following graph confirms this clear correlation between resources and an institution’s standing in the university rankings. It shows the average institution score in the ranking plotted against purchasing power parity GDP per capita in each country. Colours indicate different geographical regions, while the size of circle indicates the proportion of students attending ranked universities:

Availability of Higher Education by Income


How this relates to a highly unequal educational world becomes clear when comparing the above GDP-weighted map to a map showing the global population distribution. Here one can see extreme concentrations of top universities in the rich but relatively less densely populated continents of North America and Europe, while vast swathes of the world’s population have limited, or often no, access to top-ranked research universities:

Gridded cartogram projection of the THE World University Rankings 2016/17 showing population
(click for larger version)

Money matters in the world of education: With education being seen as one important path out of poverty, tackling such unequal patterns and supporting higher education institutions as key drivers for a sustainable global development are an important element in the 2030 Agenda.

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig in collaboration with Phil Baty of TES Global and is property of the authors and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. These maps were also published at Times Higher Education ahead of the British Council’s Going Global 2017 conference in London. Please contact me for further details and the terms of use.

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