General information on ranking

Name of the ranking QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings
Geographical scope Global
Name of person in charge of ranking Ben Sowter
E-mail of person in charge of ranking
Website of the ranking
Publication frequency annual
First year of publication 2016
Most recent year of publication 2018
Date of last update 2023-07-17
Ranking organization Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd (QS)
Website of the methodology

The QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings highlights the nations with the world’s strongest higher education systems. Comparing national performance in four areas, the ranking is based on system strength, access, flagship institution performance, and economic context. These four categories are outlined below.


The first category assesses overall national system strength, based on performance in the international rankings. Each country is awarded a score based on the number of its institutions which are ranked 700 or above in the QS World University Rankings®, divided by the average position of those institutions. The aim is to give an overall indication of each country’s standing in the global ranking tables.

ACCESS (25%)

The second category relates to access, a key issue today as nations aspire to extend access to world-class higher education. Scores in this category are calculated based on the number of places available at universities ranked within the global top 500, divided by an indicator of population size. The specific figures used in this calculation are the total number of full-time equivalent students at universities in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings, divided by the square root of the population. The aim is to give an indication of the chances of gaining a place at a world-class university for residents of the country in question.


Next up, the ‘flagship’ category assesses the performance of the country’s leading institution within the global rankings. This is a normalized score, based on the place each nation’s top university occupies in the QS World University Rankings. This indicator is based on the premise that the performance of a country’s leading institution is a credit to the overall system, often resulting from national investment in developing a flagship institution to lead the way.


The fourth and final indicator aims to assess the impact of national investment in higher education, by comparing each nation’s financial situation to its performance in the international rankings. An indexed score is awarded for each university featured in the rankings (7 points for a university in the top 100, 6 points for 101-200, 5 points for 201-300, 4 for 301-400, 3 for 401-500, 2 for 501-600 and 1 for 601-700), and this is then factored against the GDP per capita for the country in question.

These four indicators are combined with equal weighting to give the overall scores, with the top 50 countries published. The interactive ranking table can also be sorted to compare national performance within each of the four categories.

Additional information

  • Type of publication: internet
  • Internet users access to ranking: open access
  • Language of publication: English
  • Main target groups: higher education institutions, policymakers, governments and funding agencies
  • Major dimensions covered: employability, internationalization, reputation, research, teaching
  • Structure of presentation: ordinary presentation (league tables)
  • Quality assurance of ranking: advisory board, periodic consultancy
  • Website of the ranking organization:
  • Types of the ranking organization: commercial/for-profit (incl. media)
  • Types of rankings: specialized