Are Chinese university better than MIT in the engineering rankings

sandberg-tsinghuaSheryl Sandberg lends some prestige to a Tsinghua commencement ceremony. (Reuters/China Daily)

Tsinghua University, arguably the most prestigious research institution in China, last week upset the normally staid world of university rankings. It grabbed the top spot in the engineering schools list compiled by US News, a position long held by MIT.

MIT is unambiguously the more prestigious and well known of the two, especially outside of China, so how could Tsinghua have overtaken it? The answer is quantity, not quality. And we’re not talking student quality here, but research papers.

US News rankings by subject try to determine the best schools in a particular field, like engineering or economics. For the hard sciences, the subject ranking relies almost exclusively on a university’s research output. It is based on how much research each university produces, measures of how good that research is, and the level of international cooperation. This is different from the US News ranking for schools overall, which include indicators like the number of conferences held, books published, and PhDs awarded.

Chinese schools are indeed climbing the engineering list. Tsinghua drew attention for besting MIT, and two other Chinese universities appeared in the top 10. But while these schools score big in the “how much” categories, they do poorly on the “how good” ones.

Ranking School, engineering Country
#1 Tsinghua University China
#2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
#3 University of California, Berkeley US
#4 Zhejiang University China
#5 Nanyang Technological University Singapore
#5 (tie) National University of Singapore Singapore
#7 Harbin Institute of Technology China
#8 Stanford University US
#9 Georgia Institute of Technology US
#10 City University of Hong Kong Hong Kong