International rankings and University positioning

There are many international rankings, and new ones are published every year. 
The University of Milan follows only the most renowned and long-established rankings.

As its Italian peers, the University of Milan ranks lower in indicators such as the student lecturer ratio and the share of foreign students and lecturers.

Published annually, international rankings are built by research centres or companies for commercial purposes. They compare a small group of universities worldwide (approximately one thousand) using different criteria in terms of content and breadth of comparison.

Each ranking assesses a specific set of parameters and assigns each university a synthetic score, which determines its position in the final rankings, provided globally at world level and by university home country and continent.

While some ranking providers require data from universities, others use their own or third-party databases.

Rankings provide seemingly clear-cut, objective and comparable information.

A good international ranking improves the image and attractiveness of a university, both to prospective students and their families, and to researchers wishing to establish collaborations on scientific projects.

Rankings generally take into account some indicators related to:

  • teaching (teacher-student ratio, number of graduates and PhD students)
  • research (number of publications and citations)
  • internationalisation (number of foreign students and teachers)

Some rankings (like QS and THE) also use reputational surveys in the global academic community, with an equal weighting in each indicator.

Data aggregation and collection approaches differ depending on the ranking - for instance, some rankings rely on data supplied by universities, which may undermine consistency in data processing.

Methodological limitations

A ranking is based on a synthetic indicator, which is both its major pro and con. Universities are complex and multidimensional systems, and a single indicator, precisely because it is simple, fails to grasp their peculiarities.

It is important to know the ranking approach to put it into context and read it accurately.

Rankings are often built on a university model that is different from the Italian system, and they never take into consideration the amount of institutional funding. That is why Italian universities struggle to rank in the top 100 positions, especially where teaching has a significant weight.

On the other hand, Italian universities do very well in ranking by subject, which considers only research.