Cream of the Crop in Life Sciences

(November 10th, 2015) Whatever one may think about global university rankings, they provide some sort of indication of excellent research hotspots. Times Higher Education recently released its latest list. Where’s THE’s best place to work for life scientists?

Times Higher Education (THE) rankings are based on university performance in five core areas: teaching, volume of research, influence of research (number of citations), international outlook of students and staff, and how well the knowledge can be applied to industry. This, they say, sets them apart from all other international university rankings. “Sophisticated” statistical methods are used to reduce bias and increase reproducibility of the final published results. This year’s THE ranking system claims to have improved compared to previous years in order to account for the “ever-increasing individual performance” of each participating university. The THE says that its rankings are regarded as “highly trustworthy” among students, academic staff, industry and governments.

In its overall ranking published earlier this year, the California Institute of Technology was in first place, followed by the Universities of Oxford and Stanford. In October, they released the results broken down by subject areas. In the Life Sciences, the University of Oxford bagged first place, bringing the UK to the top of the list for the very first time. The second place was shared by Harvard University and another UK higher education institute, the University of Cambridge. “Cambridge and the surrounding region has some excellent research institutes and biotech companies as well as allied industry, which can lead to some productive collaborations,” Abigail Fowden, head of the School of Biological Sciences at Cambridge, told THE. The Life Sciences Top 5 is completed by Stanford.

One more winner in this year’s Life Sciences ranking was Switzerland. Despite its small size, it managed to get the astonishing number of six universities and institutes into the ranking. For instance, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich secured 11th place, climbing more than 20 places since 2011, when they came in at 34th spot. The ETH Zürich’s strong performance can be traced back to three well-oiled life science divisions, says Detlef Günther, analytical chemist and ETH Zürich’s vice president for research and corporate relations. “Firstly, the department of health sciences and technology, which aims to create the foundations for sustaining and improving the quality of life. Then in the department of biosystems science and engineering, biologists, engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians work towards a quantitative understanding and purposeful engineering of complex biological systems. And thirdly, the department of biology, which focuses on the cellular and molecular foundations of life.”

A few more of Life Sciences top places in Europe are the University of Bristol (UK), Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) and Lund University (Sweden), making the top 50. All in all, 36 of the top 100 universities in the Life Sciences are in the US, while 46 top higher education institutions are located in Europe. China, Russia and Singapore each host just one THE “world-class” university as assessed by life science research.

Nadejda Capatina

Photo: Griffin

Last Changes: 12.16.2015