Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the 2011 QS World University Rankings

The performance of Eastern European and Central Asian universities in the 2011 edition of the QS World University Rankings® is a fascinating mixture of stability and change. While the big hitters are all present, many have slid down the table. However this is offset somewhat by the ascent of a number of younger institutions, some of which are making their very first appearance in the QS World University Rankings®.

The total number of universities from the region in the top 600 has increased to 26 from 23 last year and 20 in 2009. As in the previous two editions, universities from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Slovenia are included. Institutions from Belarus and Croatia also make the top 600 this year. Romania however leaves the group, though it is represented outside of the top 600, as are Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.

As has been the case for the previous few years, Lomonosov Moscow State University (112) leads the pack, followed Saint Petersburg State University (251) and the Czech Republic’s venerable Charles University (276). All three have dropped this year, with LMSU’s ascent over the past few years arrested. However, despite falling out of the top 100 it still remains the region’s sole representation in the top 200. Its continuing success can largely be ascribed to its exceptional faculty student ratio – if this was the only indicator, than LMSU would be in 7th place. Strong student faculty ratios are notable across the region. Bauman Moscow State Technical University (379) joins its fellow Muscovite institution in the top ten in this criterion, and a total of 15 universities make the top 200 (seven of which are in the top 50). In fact, only four universities in the region rank lower in this indicator than they do overall, suggesting that these strong ratios are a large factor in these universities’ standings (faculty student ratios account for 20% of a university’s total score). The aforementioned BMSTU is one of six new entries from the region in the top 600. Leading the pack in 372nd is the 20 year-old Central European University (Hungary). This graduate-focused institution, which only has around 1,500 students on its books, is extremely wealthy (financier George Soros, one of the world’s richest men, is one its founders and chief benefactors) so it is likely that we will be seeing more of it in future rankings.

The other new entrants are: Belarus State University (500-550), the University of Zagreb (Croatia, 500-550), Tomsk Polytechnic University (Russia, 550-600), and People’s Friendship University of Russia (550-600). The entry of three new Russian universities, taking the total number of institutions in the top 600 from the country to ten, demonstrates the nation’s growing academic strength. Though this is tempered somewhat by the slight drop in rank for five of these universities, at this point the increase in breadth arguably outweighs these drops.

Aside from the new entries, there are two impressive rises in rank – the Ural Federal University, named after Boris Yelstin, has climbed 43 places to 461 and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations by 232 places to 389. Both can credit this in part to their impressive faculty student ratios (they rank 11th and 26th respectively in this indicator). With the Russian government allocating US$4.1 billion to education between 2011 and 2015, the performance of Russian universities – be it in individual performances or an all-round proliferation of institutions – will be worth observing over the next few years.

Investing for the future

On the subject of investment, the universities of oil-rich Central Asia will also be worth watching. Kazakhstan’s LN Gumilyov Eurasian National University (400-450) and Farabi Kazakh National University (400-450) have both climbed the rankings, thanks, once again, to their exceptional student faculty ratios, and in the case of the latter, an improved standing with academics. This is consolidated by the increased number of international faculty, which suggests it is becoming a more appealing prospect for international academics. Three Azerbaijani institutions are also present between ranks at 600+ (Qafqaz University, Khazar University, and Baku State University). The nation’s economic growth over the past decade may well result in improved standings in years to come, as the nation seeks to translate prosperity into stature. The former two institutions, only 18 and 20 years in age, will also benefit from becoming better known.  Moving from the new to the old, many established institutions have dropped significantly in rank.

The two oldest Polish institutions included in the rankings – Jagiellonian University and the University of Warsaw – for instance, have taken a big dive, dropping from 304 and 364 to 393 and 400-450 respectively. Their academic standing, in both cases, seems to be the main cause. Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University and the University of Szeged have also both dropped significantly to 500-550 and 550-600, as has Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana (550-600). The latter has fallen in rank across the board, but what stands out as being a particular problem area is the number of international faculty, an indicator in which it has dropped by 246 places. This highlights what seems to be a general problem for the region in both the 2010 and 2011 rankings. Why international faculty are leaving is not clear, but if the universities do not attract the best academics from around the world it is quite possible that the result be further damage to their academic reputations. Notably, Azerbaijan’s universities lead the pack in this regard. Their ambition and wealth inevitably contribute to this. They also fare well when it comes to international students, with Qafqaz University ranked 64 in the world in this indicator.

People’s Friendship University of Russia, at 66, also makes the top 100. The region is a mixed bag in terms of this criterion, with many universities exceeding their overall rank (Czech universities fare well), while others – notably, Polish institutions – do less well. Outside of the top 600 are numerous institutions that have not featured in our rankings before, threatening to break the status quo, the members of which have not all fared so well. It seems fair to predict that, then, that we will see more of what we have seen this year in the future – an increase in the breadth of universities at the cost of the prestige of the old guard.

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