Understanding Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

23 Jan 2024
Understanding Academic Ranking of World Universities

Every student wishes to study at the best universities and institutions that suit their career choices. However, without a credible source of information, choosing the university that's right for them is a challenging task.

To tackle this, ranking systems were made that globally rank universities and institutions based on different parameters One such ranking is the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

Today we will discuss what the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is. We will also understand its ranking process and the criteria on which ARWU ranks institutions and universities globally

So let’s start right away with

What is the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)?

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is a ranking system that evaluates global universities every year based on different criteria. It then releases a list of rankings for the public to refer to when choosing and researching universities.

Since it is prepared by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, the ARWU list is also known as Shanghai Ranking ARWU is an independent academic organization that specializes in higher education research and as an educational consultancy.

The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy has been publishing the ARWU ranking since 2003. The colleges and universities are ranked based on six main quality indicators. The rankings are also categorized in two ways; ranking institutions as a whole and based on subjects and courses.

The ARWU list is considered one of the top three most influential educational institution ranking systems for colleges and universities worldwide.

History of Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

The ARWU ranking system was created and published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Graduate School of Education and Center for World-Class Universities. However, since 2009, the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy has been managing the ARWU ranking process.

Initially, the ARWU ranking was launched as a means to rank universities in China. However, it soon attracted international recognition. In only a few years, ARWU was cited as a valuable source of information by different government agencies and universities.

It also gained wide popularity in the global mainstream media. Since then, hundreds of universities have credited the Shanghai Ranking in their press releases and brochures for boosting admissions and enhancing student retention.

The Economist’s 2005 survey stated that ARWU is “the most widely used annual ranking of the world’s research universities.” The Chronicle of Higher Education also cited the ARWU as being “the most influential international ranking” system for higher education institutions worldwide.

Criteria for ARWU Rankings

The ARWU list evaluates universities based on six major indicators of performance excellence. This list prioritizes ranking higher education institutions with higher excellence in researchers, field medalists, and Nobel Laureates, as well as the number of papers indexed.

Here’s a detailed explanation of the criteria and indicators of Academic Ranking of World Universities:-

Criteria for ARWU Rankings


The Awards indicators hold 20% of the total evaluation weightage

It is calculated by the number of teaching staff members who have received world-renowned awards for education. This includes considering colleges that have professors who are recipients of the Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics, economy, or chemistry.

It also considers evaluating teachers who have received field medals in mathematics. The ranking potential for educational institutions gets higher if they have multiple members of teaching staff who have won these awards.

This section awards grades according to the periods of winning the prizes. For instance, faculty who win an award after 2021 receive 100% of the total section weightage, while those from 2011-2020 are awarded 90% of the total weightage. This way, the percentile of grade decreased by 10% for every 10 years further in the past.

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Highly Cited Researchers

The highly Cited Researchers (HiCi) section is a major indicator for ARWU ranking and carries 20% weightage.

This criterion considers the number of faculty members with highly cited research papers that an applicant college or university has as full-time employees. It is determined by the latest list of cited researchers published globally by Thomas Reuters and Clarivate. This section only considers evaluating primary affiliations of highly cited researchers for ranking the educational institution.

Papers in Nature & Science

This section of the Academic Ranking of World Universities also carries 20% of the total weightage.It essentially ranks colleges according to the number of papers published by faculty in the Nature and Science magazines.

This evaluation is done by reviewing the issues of Nature and Science magazines from the past four years. However, this category does not apply to colleges or universities that specialize in humanities and science.

The total ranking weightage for this section is further subdivided according to the order of author affiliation. For instance, papers published in the two magazines as first author affiliation carry 50% of the total weightage, and another 50% if first author affiliation is equal to the corresponding author affiliation.

The ARWU offers 25% of the total weightage grade for the next author affiliation and 10% for the other author affiliation. The ranking mainly considers the type of “Article” in publications for final ranking in this section.

Papers Indexed

The papers indexed section for evaluation used for ARWU ranking carries 20% of the total assessment weightage.

It assesses ranking according to the number of papers that are indexed in the Social Science Citation Index, and the Science Citation Index-Expanded.

This ranking evaluates citations from the last calendar year. Any educational institution that has a paper indexed in the Social Science Citation Index receives double the weightage and potentially higher ranking in the ARWU.

Per Capita Performance

The per capita performance indicator carries the remaining 10% of the total ranking weightage in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

The Shanghai Ranking Consultancy calculates the per capita performance indicator by calculating the score weightage of other indicators first. Then, it divides the total score with the number of full-time, or equivalent teaching faculty members.

There are cases where the exact number of teaching staff is unknown. In such instances, the ARWU will only consider the total weightage score of the five other indicators for ranking.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities publishes its results once a year. The results can be easily sorted to find out the performance of colleges and universities according to the individual indicators.

Importance of ARWU Ranking

It has been over 20 years since the ARWU rankings have been published. This world-class ranking system has allowed little-known but highly credentialed universities and colleges to get recognized at the global level.

This level of recognition can influence certain important aspects of any higher education institute, such as -

  • How governments and accrediting agencies view and evaluate higher education institutes.
  • If potential students and parents choose your educational institute for higher studies.
  • Whether a business organization chooses to partner with your educational institute.
  • If a funding body finds your educational institute credible for grants, funds, etc.

Having a high ranking in the Academic Ranking of World Universities helps increase your college or university’s overall visibility. This is an effective way to enhance your institute’s reputation and stay a step ahead of competitors.

In turn, a good ARWU helps students, potential faculty, and collaborators to choose your college for admissions and employment respectively.

Additionally, a significant ARWU ranking also helps students to choose their college, among others as the top choice for higher education. This is an excellent way to increase revenue and ensure attracting international students, which is also essential for accreditation.

Today, international students are a valuable source of income for higher education institutions. International students find university ranking to be an important tool to select the best-suited educational institution.

This is especially helpful for international students. They do not have the time and funds to personally visit the campus and check the college facilities and programs. However, a quick check of the Academic Ranking for World Universities helps students choose the best universities to study overseas.


Among the different world university ranking systems, the Academic Ranking of World Universities is the most trusted globally. Though each uses different assessment methods, the ARWU methodology is incredibly effective and practical as compared to others. It uses six major indicators to assess research excellence and overall educational quality.

The ranking gives more value to higher education institutions with Nobel Laureates and Field Medalists in the faculty. It also focuses on ensuring top-quality education by making sure the teaching faculty is highly qualified and experienced.

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Gurudev Somani Author :

Gurudev Somani,

Academic Consultant

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