An assessment carried out by
The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is produced by the Institute of Higher Education at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Several indicators of academic or research performance are used to establish the ranking, these include highly cited researchers, articles indexed in major citation indices and staff winning Nobel Prizes.
The World’s Top-500 universities (2008) are mainly located in Europe (n=210; 40%), the Americas (n=190; 40%) and the Asian/Pacific region (n=100; 20%) There are 23 universities located in France, representing 11% of the European universities in the ARWU ranking.
France has a population of 64 million inhabitants and the eighth largest economy in the world and fourth third in Western Europe (in terms of Gross Domestic Product), after USA, China, Japan, India, Germany, United Kingdom and Russia.
Universities in France are predominantly public institutions. Interestingly, the best students attend the ‘Grandes Ecoles’ [‘Grand Schools’] (a higher education establishment outside the mainstream framework of the public universities system). Whilst the universities are open to all students who finish their high school education (with a ‘Baccalauréat’), the ‘Grandes Ecoles’ require an additional entrance exam which is highly competitive.
In comparison to French universities, the ‘Grandes Ecoles’ are relatively small institutions. For example, the University of Paris 06 (ranked 42rd in the world) has 30,000 students and the Ecole Normale Superieure Paris (ranked 73rd in the world) has 2,000 students.
The Top-5 universities in France are: 1. University of Paris 06 (ranked 42nd in the world), 2. University of Paris 11 (49th), 3. Ecole Normale Superieure Paris (73rd), 4. University of Paris 07 (101-151) and University of Strasbourg (101-151). Overall, the ‘Grandes Ecoles’ only represent 5 of the top-23 universities in France and there is a very high representation of universities located in Paris (9 out of 23).
In order to make inter-country comparisons, AllAboutUni.com calculates the number of universities in the World’s Top-500 per million inhabitants. The overall number of universities per million inhabitants is 0.5 for industrialised countries. An earlier assessment found that small countries in Western Europe (Sweden (1.2), Finland (1.1) and Switzerland (1.0)) and New Zealand (1.2) have the highest number of universities per million inhabitants.
The number of universities in the World’s Top-500 universities that are located in France is 0.4 per million inhabitants. Other large industrialized countries have the following figures: Australia (0.7), the Netherlands (0.7), United Kingdom (0.7), Canada (0.6), United States (0.5), Germany (0.5), France (0.4), Italy (0.4), Japan (0.2), South Korea (0.2) and Spain (0.2). This means that France performance is relatively low compared to other industrialised countries.
At the top of the ARWU ranking, there are only three French universities in the World’s Top-100 universities. This compares to 54 for the US, 11 for the UK, 6 for Germany, 4 each for Canada, Japan and Sweden, and 3 for Australia and Switzerland. All other countries have fewer than 3 universities in the World’s Top-100 universities.
In conclusion, France performs poorly when its universities are compared to other industrialised countries in the world. Its best university is only ranked 42nd in the world and there are only three universities in the World’s Top-100 universities. Looking at the density of top universities per million inhabitants also reveals a poor performance compared to other industrialised countries.