You can act shocked now.

Once again, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have secured top spots in Asia in the 2024 QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Released on 10 April, the rankings featured 408 Asian universities among over 1,500 institutions worldwide.

NUS and NTU outperformed universities in China, Japan, and Hong Kong in terms of the number of top 10 programs, a trend observed since at least 2021. 

I guess that’s why my mother was so insistent that I went to a local university… For the flex factor, but jokes on her I was an arts major.

NTU represented Singapore with 45 subject entries, 10 of which ranked in the global top 10, spanning areas like communication, materials science, and engineering.

Meanwhile, NUS boasted 44 ranked subjects, with 19 landing in the top 10, encompassing fields such as history of art, geography, and marketing.

In the 2023 rankings, NUS had 14 subjects while NTU had five subjects listed in the global top 10.

If you’re interested to see how well your course is doing, or you’re a prospective student curious about your intended course, you can check on it via their website, which lists the top ranking universities according to subjects.

How are the Courses Ranked?

The rankings, assembled by global higher education analyst Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), rely on an evaluation of nearly 16,000 university departments across 104 locations worldwide.

The QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024 rely on five key indicators:

  • Academic Reputation: Based on input from academics, it showcases universities esteemed for research in specific areas, filtered by respondents’ expertise.
  • Employer Reputation: Derived from global employer surveys, it identifies institutions favored for graduate recruitment and preferred disciplines.
  • Research Citations per Paper: Utilizing Elsevier Scopus data, it sets publication thresholds to ensure reliability and adjusts weightings to reflect discipline-specific citation patterns.
  • H-index: Measures productivity and impact by analyzing an academic’s most cited papers and their citations in other publications.
  • International Research Network (IRN) Index: Evaluates institutions’ capacity to expand global research collaborations and establish sustainable partnerships with other higher education entities.

An In-depth Look at This Year’s Results

Compared to 15 from last year, NUS has secured 19 spots in the global top 10 out of the 44 programs.

Notably, four programs clinched top 5 positions: Architecture/Built Environment (#5), Chemical Engineering (#5), Civil & Structural Engineering (#4), and History of Art (#2).

Most outstandingly, NUS’s history of art program secured the second position, trailing behind Britain’s Royal College of Art.

Dr Priya M. Jaradi, course convener for the art history minor at NUS’ Department of History, emphasized the program’s departure from conventional teaching methods.

She highlighted its original and inclusive approach, regularly adapting to evolving global dynamics such as geopolitics, climate change, and migration, which impact art and museum contexts.

NUS Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost, Professor Aaron Thean, highlighted that the 2024 rankings represent the university’s highest number of subjects in the global top 10 over the last five years.

He expressed that the recognition is a sign of the university’s dedication to academic excellence and interdisciplinary education in “equipping students for the challenges and opportunities of the future”

Meanwhile, NTU had 10 of its 45 ranked subjects placed in the global top 10.

Standout programs include Education, Chemistry, and Communication and Media Studies.

Also in the rankings, Singapore Management University’s business and management studies program secured the 44th position.

What Does this Mean for Singapore?

Well, right off the bat, it could mean that there will be a lot more competition when applying to those select courses after completing Junior College or Polytechnic.

With 64% of its previously ranked entries advancing in the rankings, Singapore has experienced substantial enhancement in academic reputation.

Ben Sowter, QS senior vice-president, noted Singapore’s notable resurgence in the 2024 rankings as a “historic success” and that “most likely its impressive turnaround is largely attributable to a decade-long commitment to strategic investments and planning.”

However, he also cautioned that sustaining this growth poses challenges amid heightened regional competition.

British universities dominated in 16 subjects, with the University of Oxford leading in four. Meanwhile, US universities led in 32 subjects, with Harvard University securing the top spot in 19 disciplines, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 11.

Though Singapore’s institutions continue to do well in the global league tables, there is debate as to whether or not university rankings are reflective of the institutions’ true performance on a global scale.

The controversy escalated in 2022 when it came to light that a prominent US university acknowledged submitting inaccurate data to the US school rankings industry, leading to Yale and Harvard declaring their withdrawal from the influential US News rankings of the best law schools. 

Educational institutions have long criticised the US News ranking system, alleging its unreliability and distortion of educational priorities.

However, they seldom acted to oppose it, typically submitting their data annually for evaluation of their undergraduate and graduate programs.

More locally, critics, like Emeritus Professor Arnoud De Meyer, formerly of SMU, argue that rankings overlook crucial criteria like educational quality and impact on the community.

He also cautioned against believing in rankings that use “opinions or perceived standing in the academic community as a major input”, criticising the metrics used to determine both the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings.

NUS’ Professor Bernard Tan acknowledges rankings’ value in providing an external assessment but notes their limitations in capturing broader aspects like student life and employability.

NTU’s spokesperson highlights rankings’ utility for gauging progress but stresses they may not fully reflect a university’s unique contributions to society.

SMU’s President Lily Kong underscores the inadequacy of rankings in recognizing lifelong learning and societal engagement, echoing Singapore’s decision to abandon school rankings.

Both QS and THE defend their rankings, emphasising their role in aiding student decision-making and informing policymaking, with rigorous data validation processes. They acknowledge the need for nuanced assessments to accommodate diverse educational missions.

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