What are we to make of a recent survey that claims MIT, the Bartlett, and Delft University of Technology are the best architecture schools in the world? This ranking, created by British-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) also names Stanford, New York University, and University of California, Santa Barbara, as its top schools for architecture and these institutions don’t even have standalone schools of architecture. This assessment has received a great deal of attention on social media, particularly from those associated with the top schools. But what are we to make of a listing that does not even mention SCI-Arc or the Architectural Association in London? It also lists the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales ahead of Cornell University, and Kyoto University just ahead of Princeton and the University of Michigan.
I have nothing against the schools that came out on top, nor am I trying to be chauvinistic by emphasizing U.S. universities, but one has to wonder about a list that puts King Saud University in Saudi Arabia ahead of Rice University in Houston.
But what criteria did the QS use in establishing the ranking? First, this firm, which calls itself a “higher education marketing company” and one of the “three most influential university rankings in the world,” looked only at universities. This means that while QS surveyed “2,122 institutions across the globe, offering courses in architecture or the built environment,” schools like Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, Cooper Union, or the Royal College of Art in London were not even considered for evaluation. QS asserts that its evaluation is based on four factors: academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper, and what it calls “H-Index citations.” An H-Index citation is a metric that attempts to “measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar.”
It’s hard to learn more about the QS architecture ranking, and it seems rather sloppy and unscientific, but the firm also rates universities worldwide, and these rankings seem to line up fairly closely with its architecture list.
Finally, it may make sense to consider architecture education in a national context, rather than a worldwide one, since the licensing protocols and building requirements are so different from nation to nation. Sorry, MIT, but this QS ranking is so myopically concerned with academic citations as to be nearly worthless as a guide for what comprises quality architecture education in all its 21st-century variety and subtlety.