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Caltech tops prestigious world university rankings

October 5, 2011 |  4:01 pm

Caltech campus

Caltech has been ranked the world's best research university by a British higher education magazine, beating Harvard University in the ranking for the first time.

The Pasadena university, which specializes in science and engineering, was honored as the top institution in the World University Rankings released by the Times Higher Education magazine in London. Harvard had topped the list each year since the rankings began in 2004, but it was tied for second this year, along with Stanford University. The University of California system had five campuses ranked in the top 40 worldwide.

Caltech placed second last year and its rise to first by a small margin over Harvard was attributed mainly to increases in its research funding, according to an analysis of the World University Rankings. The listing relies heavily on measurements of research budgets, faculty publication of papers and the impact of such 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 rankings’ editor, said in an interview Wednesday.

Following Caltech, Harvard and Stanford in the top 10 were, in declining order: the University of Oxford, Princeton University, the University of Cambridge, MIT, Imperial College London, the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley.

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

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," Chameau said, adding that he did not think a specific grant boosted its standing.

“I think the best thing we can do is to continue to do our work the way we do it at Caltech,” Chameau said. The school seeks to “attract and support exceptional faculty and students and then we do our best to give them the freedom, the resources and the environment to address big questions and complex issues.”

U.S. universities again dominated the magazine's list this year, with 50 of the top 100 slots. Other nations with strong showings were the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Australia. A full listing is online.


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Photo: The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology on the Caltech campus. Credit: Benny Chan / Fotoworks