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THE World University Rankings 2022 are out, universities with COVID-19 research publications make a significant improvement in rankings

Universities that managed to get their high-impact research work published on Covid-19 have risen rapidly in the rankings, with China reaping the greatest benefits. According to the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, universities that have published medical sciences research related to Covid-19 have seen a significant increase in their citation impact, but it is unclear whether the pandemic will reconfigure or perpetuate existing hierarchies in global higher education. THE’s data team discovered that after publishing medical papers related to Covid-19, 19 institutions saw a significant increase in their citation impact score between the 2021 and 2022 editions of the ranking.

This may be the first proof that virus research at universities has an influence on rankings. The table’s 2022 edition, released today, is based on research published between 2016 and 2020, as well as citations made between 2016 and 2021. Capital Medical University, Wenzhou Medical University, and Wuhan University, all in mainland China, saw the greatest increase in citation impact score in absolute terms, with each receiving a score increase of more than 30 points. The majority of the country’s recent progress, however, has occurred in its elite universities.

If less well-known institutions continue to rise in the years ahead as a result of the publication of impactful and prominent pandemic-related research, China’s progress could be accelerated. The citation effect was “to be expected given Covid-19’s global impact,” according to David Watkins, head of data science at THE. “Universities researching coronaviruses will receive an ongoing boost from that fact,” said Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, “although its implications on research performance will slump.”

In the World University Rankings 2022, the first position is retained by the University of Oxford, UK, followed by California Institute of Technology and Harvard University which together share position number two. The ranking of Stanford University has slumped by two and now it is gets placed at number four in the list. The University of Cambridge managed to be in the top five in comparison to the sixth position of 2021. The number five is shared by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Though universities from China experienced significant improvements in the ranking, those from the United States dominates the top ten table.

Because THE looks at publications over a five-year period, it’s safe to assume that this effect will show up in the rankings for a while and that other Covid-related effects, such as reputational impact (both positive and negative) and income, will show up as well.

The “more dramatic” citation changes, according to Jenny Lee of the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, were likely fueled by the fact that “specimen and case data were especially present in China upon the onset of the pandemic” and that “major publishers committed to open access for Covid topic publications.”

“Universities researching coronaviruses will receive an ongoing boost from that fact,” said Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, “although its impact on research performance will plateau.” Professor Marginson said there are three concurrent changes to watch out for in global higher education in the coming years: continued growth of science outputs and citations in China and Singapore; potential instability of US-China cooperation and collaboration due to geopolitics; and Covid-related uprisings in medical research.

“It’s extremely difficult to predict how these effects will balance out. Year to year, there could be significant changes, or the effects could cancel out to some extent,” he said.

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