As is well known, ranking higher education institutions involves so much criteria and data, and even subjectivity and generalization. Ranking therefore is never an exact science; strengths and weaknesses of the colleges are never static, just as are aspects like availability and use of research funding, upgrading, qualities of instructors. Many colleges are slow at revolutionizing their curriculums, while others are rapidly innovative and easily embrace change.

This year, for the first time in a very long time, universitycafe I recently perused some of the rankings of the universities all over the world. My impetus lies in the newsflash that California Institute of Technology, a powerhouse in Pasadena that is therefore not far-fetched from where I live, has become ranked in Forbes magazine as the top research university in the world. California very much remains a flagship state, despite the economic woes and the “spoiled brat” image of Californians. There is a latent, sometimes blatant “East Coast-West Coast” rivalry among Americans, that the displacement of Harvard by “Caltech” as the leading academic institution in the world is cause for Californians to roar it into the wild.

When I was at Texas’ Baylor University in Waco, I marveled at the young Caltech graduate student from India who visited to witness the wedding of his sister Nivedita Sahu who was a classmate. Undoubtedly, he was a very brilliant and affable fellow. As I left Waco for Los Angeles, the director of the Department of Environmental Studies, a top national atmospheric physicist who additionally had a graduate degree in music, Dr. W. Merle Alexander told me that he routinely visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena at least once a year. Professor Alexander was to teach at Baylor for thirty years and was a long-term member of the Waco Symphony Orchestra whereby he played the french horn. Long before I knew about Californian genius Steve Jobs, Baylor had introduced me to directly facing and interacting with the computer world, in the dense network of Apple Macintosh computers all over the campus.

I took interest in the “Times Higher Education” World University rankings which were established in collaboration with a data provider generated by the same agency, with Thomas Reuters, and with expert information from over fifty leading persons in the field from fifteen nations across each of the continents. “Times Higher Education” regards itself as the golden yardstick in the field in the area of university performance comparison. Among the factors considered and weighed in ranking the universities were innovation, citations generated, volume and reputation of the researching, the teaching-learning environment, and the international outlook of the institutions. The institutions were ranked universally, and by region.

World Top Institutions 2011-2012

(1) California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA; (2) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; (2) Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA; (4) University of Oxford, UK; (5) Princeton University, Princeton, NJ; (6) University of Cambridge, UK; (7) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; (8) Imperial College London, UK; (9) University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; (10) University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA; (11) Yale University, New Haven, CT; (12) Columbia University, Washington, DC; (13) University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; (14) Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD; (15) ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland; (16) University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; (17) University College London, UK; (18) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; (19) University of Toronto, Canada; (20) Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Top North American Institutions 2011-2012

(1) California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA; (2) Harvard U., Cambridge, MA; (2) Stanford U., Palo Alto, CA; (4) Princeton U., Princeton, NJ; (5) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; (6) U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL; (7) U. of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA; (8) Yale U., New Haven, CT; (9) Columbia U., Washington, DC; (10) U. of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; (11) Johns Hopkins U., Baltimore, MD; (12) U. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; (13) U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; (14) Cornell U., Ithaca, NY; (15) Carnegie Mellon U., Pittsburgh, PA; (16) U. of British Columbia, Canada; (17) Duke U., Durham, NC; (18) Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; (19) U. of Washington, Seattle, WA; (20) Northwestern U., Evanston, IL.

Top African Institutions 2011-2012

(1) University of Capetown, South Africa; (2) Stellenbosch University, South Africa; (3) University of Witwatersrand, South Africa; (4) Alexandria University, Egypt.

Top Oceania Institutions 2011-2012

(1) U. of Melbourne, Australia; (2) Australian National U., Australia; (3) U. of Sydney, Australia; (4) U. of Queensland, Australia; (5) Monash U., Australia; (6) U. of Auckland, New Zealand; (7) U. of New South Wales, Australia; (8) U. of Western Australia, Australia; (9) U. of Adelaide; (10) U. of Otago, New Zealand; (11) Macquarie U., Australia; (12) Victoria U. of Wellington, New Zealand; (13) U. of Wollongong, Australia; (14) U. of Newcastle, Australia (15) Queensland U. of Technology, Australia; (16) U. of Canterbury, New Zealand; (17) Charles Darwin U., Australia; (18) U. of Tasmania, Australia; (19) U. of Waikato, New Zealand; (20) Curtin U., Australia.

Top European Institutions 2011-2012

(1) University of Oxford, UK; (2) University of Cambridge, UK; (3) Imperial College London, UK; (4) ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland; (5) University College London, UK; (6) Karolinska Institute, Sweden; (7) University of Edinburgh, UK; (8) Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, Germany (9) Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland; (10) University of Manchester, UK; (11) King’s College London, UK; (12) Ecole Normale Superieure, France; (13) University of Zurich; Switzerland; (14) Ecole Polytechnique, France; (15) University of Bristol, UK; (16) Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; (17) Utrecht University, Netherlands; (18) Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen, Germany; (19) Universitat Heidelberg, Germany; (20) Wageningen University and Research Center, Netherlands.

Top South American Institutions 2011-2012

(1) University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; (2) State University of Campinas, Brazil (3) Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile.

Top Asian Institutions 2011-2012

(1) Univ. of Tokyo, Japan; (2) Univ. of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; (3) National Univ. of Singapore, Singapore; (4) Peking Univ., China; (5) Kyoto Univ., Japan; (6) Pohang Univ. of Science and Technology, Hong Kong; (7) Hong Kong Univ. of Science and Technology, Hong Kong (8) Tsinghua Univ., China; (9) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Republic of Korea; (10) Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan; (11) Osaka Univ., Japan; (12) Tohoku Univ., Japan; (13) Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem, Israel; (14) Seoul National Univ., Republic of Korea; (15) Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; (16) National Taiwan Univ., Taiwan; (17) Tel Aviv Univ., Israel; (18) Nanyang Technological Univ., Singapore; (19) Univ. of Science and Technology of China, China; (20) City Univ. of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Jonathan Musere

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