Caltech ranked as world’s top research university

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Caltech celebrated the announcement Wednesday that it has been ranked the world’s best research university by a British higher education magazine, beating Harvard University in the listing for the first time.

The Pasadena institution, which specializes in science and engineering, was first in the World University Rankings by the Times Higher Education magazine in London. Harvard had topped the list since the ranking began in 2004 but slipped to second this year, tied with Stanford University. The University of California system had five campuses ranked in the top 40 worldwide.

Caltech placed second last year, and its current rise to first by a small margin over Harvard was due largely to increases in its research funding, an official with the British publication said. The listing relies heavily on universities’ research budgets, faculty publication and the effects of research.


“It’s not that Harvard has declined. It’s that Caltech has just slightly edged across the line in the indicators,” Phil Baty, the editor overseeing the rankings, said Wednesday.

The rest of the top 10, in order, were the University of Oxford, Princeton University, the University of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley.

Other California campuses in the top 100 included UCLA at 13; UC San Diego, 33; UC Santa Barbara, 35; UC Davis, 38, tied with Australian National University at 38; USC, 55; and UC Irvine, 86.

Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau said he was especially gratified because his school, which enrolls 2,200 students, is much smaller than many competitors and offers fewer academic specialties. “It shows how good our students and faculty are to get such a ranking without being a comprehensive university,” he said.

As they have previously, U.S. universities dominated the 2011 list, claiming 50 of the top 100 slots.

Baty said public funding cuts to higher education appeared to have hurt rankings of public universities in California, in other states and elsewhere around the world. He noted that UC Berkeley and UCLA placed eighth and 11th last year, slightly higher than this year. “It might be the first tangible scale that the cuts are beginning to show,” he said.


Some higher education experts said the Times Higher Education magazine emphasizes objective criteria more than better-known rankings such as U.S. News & World Report’s annual listing of U.S. colleges. In the latest U.S. News ranking, Harvard and Princeton tied for first. Caltech tied for fifth with MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.