What Impact Does University Reputation Have on Students? Education Articles


Students at world-renowned universities in Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Japan and China have revealed the impact that their university’s reputation has on their experience, alongside the Times Higher Education 2016 World Reputation Ranking released today.

While the usual suspects in the US dominate the top of the ranking – Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University take the top three positions – two Asian institutions make it into the top 20: the University of Tokyo in Japan in 12th place and Tsinghua University in China in 18th place.

Lei Ann Watanuki, a student from the US who studied in English at the University of Tokyo, said: “I chose to attend the University of Tokyo mainly for its prestige but also because I wished to experience college life in a completely different setting from my suburban home town in the US.

“At this point, I have only completed one semester, but already I am impressed by the high academic standards of my professors and peers, particularly in mathematics. Many Japanese Nobel laureates are affiliated with UTokyo, which I would say sheds a positive light on the university.”

Strikingly, the top six universities all achieve significantly higher scores than the universities ranked directly below them, showing that the reputation of a select group of elite institutions for being “the best in the world” is particularly widespread.

PhD student Shivani Radhakrishnan – who studied at Princeton University and the University of Oxford and is currently at Columbia University – expressed surprise that Oxford scores significantly higher in the survey than both Princeton and Columbia.

She says: “I'm sure that part of the explanation for the Oxbridge prestige is that they’re older than some peer institutions, and part of the colonial legacy means that people worldwide learned to see attachment to these institutions as a mark of achievement.

“I think in the case of Princeton, part of why it doesn't feature as highly is that it is so very undergraduate-focused. But I don’t think the differences in reputation between these groups of universities are reflective of the overall experience.”

She also suggests that the growing tech industry and development in Silicon Valley contribute to the perceived excellence of MIT and University of California, Berkeley compared with Princeton, Yale University and Columbia University, which, while highly ranked, receive much lower reputation scores.

The survey asked experienced, published scholars to vote for universities that they considered to be the best for teaching and for research; overall scores are calculated as a percentage of the top university’s votes.

Nicolette Tan, from Singapore, applied to top universities in the UK and the US, ultimately accepting a place at the University of Pennsylvania.

She explains the university’s strong reputation saying: “Top speakers, business leaders [and] academics [are moving ] through the campus on a regular basis. [In addition, there are] research opportunities on the latest, hottest issues [and] strong academic partnerships with leading universities worldwide. That’s Penn, and I’m very proud.”

World's top 20 universities with the best reputation

World Reputation Rank 2016UniversityCountryGlobal Employability Rank
1Harvard UniversityUS1
2Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUS6
3Stanford UniversityUS7
4University of CambridgeUK2
5University of OxfordUK3
6University of California, BerkeleyUS19
7Princeton UniversityUS9
8Yale UniversityUS5
9Columbia UniversityUS8
10California Institute of TechnologyUS4
11University of ChicagoUS54
12University of TokyoJapan12
13University of California, Los AngelesUS48
14University of MichiganUS130
15Imperial College LondonUK15
16University of PennsylvaniaUS73
17Cornell UniversityUS38
18Tsinghua UniversityChina59
19ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ZurichSwitzerland37
20University College LondonUK30

Students at these top universities feel that they benefit from the reputation of their alma mater.

Shivani says: “I think I'm benefited by Princeton’s alumni networks (I'm in a writer's group, for instance, with a few other Princetonians) and I'm sure that part of the university’s reputation comes from having connections in various areas.

“I also think that in applications for jobs or even in freelance journalism, people are more likely to respond to your cold pitches or to your applications or emails if you’re affiliated with a university that has a certain kind of reputation. For better or for worse, it becomes a kind of shorthand for a set of abilities.”

Dai Xilu, an American student at Tsinghua, also expects the prestige of his university to present him with international opportunities.

He says: “Tsinghua’s reputation opens many doors. As a student, we pursue future education or enter the job market knowing that universities or employers appreciate our professionalism, diligence and knowledge. As a law student, my personal experience has shown me that international law firms welcome Tsinghua students and are willing to invest in us as future leaders in the legal world.”

Others also mentioned employment opportunities as a key benefit of attending a prestigious university.

Lei Ann Watanuki at the University of Tokyo is hoping to use the reputation of the institution to secure a job in Japan. She says: “I intend to work in Japan upon graduation and because Japanese employers tend to highly value university rankings, I believe that being a graduate of this university will give me an advantage in terms of job opportunities."

Shubhi at the University of Toronto said: “I am very lucky to be able to carry Toronto’s reputation with me everywhere I go. Employers are often impressed by my school and all the different ways that it allows me to shine.”

And MJ agreed: “Going to the best school in Canada already paves the way for you as a student in terms of opportunities; the knowledge acquired at the University of Toronto goes a step further in helping us become who we fully can be as some doors have been opened for us in terms of opportunities.”

Nicolette confirms that certain employers are specifically interested in recruiting from the University of Pennsylvania. She says: “I've certainly benefited from the school’s brand of excellence, in terms of recruitment to jobs and graduate programmes; many top firms see UPenn as a target school, and look at Penn as a top academic institution.”

Most of the top-ranked universities in the World Reputation Ranking are also highly ranked in the Global Employability Survey, published in November 2015, which asked employers to vote for the universities from where they liked to recruit graduates. - Times Higher Education

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