UC Berkeley was ranked as the third-best university in the world for research universities in a recent assessment by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, or ARWU.
ShanghaiRanking Consultancy has been publishing ARWU, an annual publication of international university rankings, since 2003. Since the organization first began releasing the rankings, UC Berkeley has been placed among the top four universities worldwide.
“I think it’s encouraging and motivating to be ranked so highly,” said Colin Baker, a graduate student in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering in an email. “It means you are surrounded by brilliant minds and world-class facilities, so the resources are there for you to be successful.”
The campus also ranked third in five different subjects — environmental science and engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering and materials science and engineering. Though ARWU hasn’t released all 2016 scores yet, last year UC Berkeley was first in physics and chemistry among the ranked subjects.
ARWU uses a variety of criteria to judge universities, with the majority of focus on research, the number of cited researchers and the per capita performance of the school. According to Philip Altbach, a member of the international advisory board for ARWU, their ranking system is different from other organizations like Times Higher Education because ARWU doesn’t take reputation into account.
“In my view the more you use reputation as a measure, the less useful rankings are,” said Altbach, who is also the founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. “People have opinions based on a whole bunch of stuff which are not necessarily subjective. In that sense (ARWU is) the most accurate.”
Lack of subjective input, Altbach said, also makes the ARWU ranking the most limited, since it only looks at what can be objectively measured, rather than subjective characteristics such as teaching quality. ARWU also doesn’t measure the quality of campus or student life, primarily looking at universities as research institutions.
“International study is now a huge industry and students will frequently look at rankings to decide where to study,” Altbach said. “(Ranking) has a huge influence, and in many ways a perverse influence because it focuses on research as opposed to teaching.”
Two of the criteria ARWU reviewed were how many Nobel Laureates each school produced and how many Nobel Laureates are professors at the university. At UC Berkeley, the chemical engineering and chemistry departments produced nine Nobel Laureates and boast four professors who have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
“The thing that characterizes the (chemistry) department is its diversity and its breadth,” said David Graves, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “The breadth of application is so wide and we have so many people doing interesting things, I can’t narrow it down to just one.”