NUS Is Ranked 11th, NTU Is 13th and SMU Is… 477th in the World? Here’s Why.

You might be the student in a serious life-changing dilemma right now deciding between which university to go to. You might also be the Chancellor scratching your head, wondering why your university did not make it higher in the rankings this year. Either way, you’re most likely to refer to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. Their flagship website, is perhaps the largest and most highly recognised database which ranks universities from all over the world.

It uses five ranking indicators:

  • Academic reputation (40%): Teaching and research quality, measured via the largest survey of over 100,000 academic opinions in the world
  • Employer reputation (10%): QS measures this with their Employer Survey, where employers identify the institutions where they source the most competent, innovative, effective, skillful and prepared graduates from. 
  • Faculty to student ratio (20%): QS assumes the teacher to student ratio to be the most effective proxy metric for teaching quality. Too few staff for too many students places too much burden on each individual academic, thus this measures the extent to which institutions are able to provide students with meaningful access to lecturers and tutors.
  • Citations per faculty (20%): While teaching is a key pillar in a university’s mission, another is research output. This is calculated by taking the total number of citations received by all papers produced by an institution across a five-year period by the number of faculty members at that institution. 
  • International student ratio/ international faculty ratio (5% each): A highly international university demonstrates a highly global outlook which helps to provide students with international sympathies and global awareness: soft skills increasingly valuable to employers. It also demonstrates that it has an international brand which implies that it is highly reputable and attractive to faculty and students from all over the world.

How did our Singaporean universities fair in 2020?

National University of Singapore (NUS): 11th

University Highlights – Ranking: NUS (#11)

Despite being overtaken by NTU in 2018, NUS has reclaimed its spot and has defended its position of 11th in the QS World University Rankings ever since. A notable achievement is that it has consistently been in the top two of the Asian University Rankings since its first ranking in 2013. 

Looking closer at the ranking indicators, NUS has improved its Faculty to Student ratio by hiring more faculty staff to keep up with the growing cohort size, which has increased by 7% since 2016. However, its Citations per Faculty has dropped by 3 points, largely due to the stark drop in completed research projects this year as the outbreak has made it more difficult for researchers to source for data. 

Its Employer Reputation score has slightly dipped this year, which hints that the trend of high starting salaries and strong employment rates of over 90% for graduates is starting to plateau. Its Graduate Employability Ranking has increased from #33 to #24 compared to last year.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU): 13th

University Highlights – Ranking: NTU (#13)

Are NUS and NTU each other’s rivals? Surely they would never admit it in public and would rather chalk it up to mere ‘friendly competition’. Despite NTU dropping two places this year, it has consistently been on NUS’ heels to take the top spot in the Asian University Rankings. It has also been ranked first as the best young university in the world under 50 years old since 2015.

Compared against last year’s rankings, its Academic Reputation has decreased 3 points. This might suggest a perceived slip in its teaching quality. This ties in with its lower Faculty to Student ratio, which saw a decrease of some 200 faculty staff last year. In contrast, NTU appears to be placing a heavier emphasis on research as it has consistently ramped up its competitive research grants, by a whopping 33% since 2016.

Singapore Management University (SMU): 511-520th

University Highlights – Ranking: SMU (#511-520)

After climbing to 477th last year, SMU unfortunately dropped to the #511-520 band this year. 

While this may seem to be an abyssal performance relative to the aforementioned two universities, it is important to take into account that SMU is actually classified as a Specialist University according to the QS Rankings. These specialised institutions only have 1-2 traditional faculty areas. SMU’s are Management and the Social Sciences. In fact, it ranked 11th in that category last year, which is laudable for an extremely young university.

SMU particularly emphasises the fact that its graduates have excellent job prospects. Currently, its employment rate is at 92.3% and mean gross monthly salaries are at an all-time high. Contrary to the positive statistics, its Employer Reputation score sharply fell by 5 points which may hint at its graduates losing some rapport with their industries. Its Academic Reputation and Faculty to Student scores were absent this year, citing a lack of responses about these areas.

Despite SMU not having traditional research-intensive courses such as Science and Medicine, the recent rise in its Citations per Faculty score is telling of its efforts to kickstart research, particularly of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management. Nevertheless, it will take some time for them to be recognised on both teaching and research fronts on the international level.

Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)

University Highlights – Ranking by Subject: SUTD (#501-550)

Established in 2009, SUTD is one of the youngest universities in the world. Therefore there has not been much data collected about it. The only evaluation via the QS World University by Subject (Course) is on its Computer Science and Information Systems courses which are ranked in the #501-550 band.

Most notably, it has outstanding H-Index Citations and Citations per Paper scores, which means that its academics have produced several highly cited papers. Thus, this university appears to be forging ahead in the research and innovation front.

Singapore Institute of Management (UniSIM)

University Highlights – Ranking by Subject: UniSIM (#301-350)

UniSIM was ranked on its Business and Management Studies course via the QS World University Ranking by Subjects. It was put in the #301-350 rank band this year, climbing one band.

All its scores on the ranking indicators have increased from last year, particularly Employer Reputation which rose by 2 points, a contrast to NTU and SMU this year. Its H-Index Citations and Citations per Paper scores have also steadily climbed by over 10 points. While they have yet to touch the scores of the ‘Big 3’, the statistics show that UniSIM seems to be making some progress in the research sector.

It should be noted that the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) is a new wing of UniSIM and has not been listed by the QS rankings.

What about SIT?

The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) was established in 2009 and it was only awarded its status as an autonomous university in 2014. Therefore, no assessments of this university have been published by QS.


The QS Rankings are indeed a convenient infographic for prospective students and staff to use. However, it should be noted that it uses a variety of methodologies to evaluate and rank each university and we should take more than just one glance at the rankings. 

In the case of SMU, not only is it a business-centric Specialist university but it is also much younger than NUS and NTU. Judging it based on its position on the overall World University Rankings seems a tad unfair, especially since research capabilities and strong teaching frameworks are built over time. Notably, it also misses out scoring some non-tangible aspects critical to the quality of university education: academic culture, campuses and of course the social life you experience.

Congruently, QS is not the only available rankings for universities. The rankings done by Times Higher Education and Round University Ranking are also useful for providing a second opinion when in doubt. Therefore, while this list might be useful in helping you to narrow your choices, you should still do your own research to get the complete picture.

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