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The National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge Campus.
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For the first time ever, two Asian schools beat Yale in one popular university ranking

By Steve Mollman

Two universities in Asia have shot up in a prominent ranking of the world’s top schools. Used by students and parents to compare schools internationally, the QS World University Rankings are prepared by Quacquarelli Symonds, a London-based company specializing in education and study abroad.

In the company’s just-released 2015/16 rankings, the National University of Singapore went from 22nd last year to 12th this year, and Nanyang Technological University went from 39th to 13th. The schools—both in Singapore—became the first in Asia to break into the top 15. Both placed ahead of Yale, which fell from 10th to 15th.

2015/16 rankUniversity2014/15 rank
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)1
2Harvard University4
3University of Cambridge2
4Stanford University7
5California Institute of Technology8
6University of Oxford5
7University College London5
8Imperial College London2
9Swiss Federal Institute of Technology12
10University of Chicago11
11Princeton University9
12National University of Singapore22
13Nanyang Technological University39
14Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne17
15Yale University10

Like many such listings, the QS World University Rankings have faced criticism over the years. For example, part of the ranking methodology involves how many research papers a school publishes, and how often those papers are cited by other academics. But some fields—such as life sciences and medicine—generate significantly more citations than others.

This year, to even the playing field, the QS rankings gave equal weight to citations across fields, including arts and humanities, engineering and technology, social sciences and management, natural sciences, and life sciences and medicine.

That helps explain why the National University of Singapore, which has a well-balanced research profile not disproportionately geared toward medicine—jumped 10 places. Both universities would have risen without the adjustment, QS head of research Ben Sowter, told the Straits Times.

But it doesn’t completely explain it. In competing rankings, the schools don’t do nearly as well. In the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities (2015), the top Asian school is the University of Tokyo, which comes in at 21st, well below Yale at 11th. Neither the National University of Singapore nor Nanyang Technological University make the top 100.

In the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2014-15), the University of Tokyo is again the top Asian school, coming in at 23rd. The National University of Singapore ranks at 25th, and Nanyang Technological University at 61st. Yale is ranked ninth.