The world's top universities in 2012

The world’s top universities have a lot in common – renowned academics, rich histories, and a Cambridge postal code.

That according to a popular global ranking of universities put out this week by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British-based higher education consulting firm, whose annual World University Rankings list is topped by three institutions that call a city of Cambridge home.

Overall, the United States and United Kingdom dominate the leader board, but they’re increasingly being challenged in crucial science and technology fields by East Asia’s powerhouse universities, including the University of Tokyo, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Hong Kong.  

No Latin American or African universities cracked the global top 100 this year, but the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil (No. 139 in the world) placed among the top 50 schools in five specific subject areas. Meanwhile, Africa’s top institution remains the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which clocked in this year at No. 154.

The QS rankings are based heavily on universities’ prestige among global academics, and also consider faculty-student ratio, faculty publications, reputation among job recruiters, and proportion of international students and staff.

Here are this year’s top 10.

10. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

A total of 31 Caltech alumni and faculty have won a Nobel Prize and 66 more have taken home a National Medal of Science or Technology. So it’s no surprise that the school consistently finds itself near the top of the QS rankings. This year it has the world’s fifth best earth and marine sciences program and the eighth best physics department. But Caltech is unlikely to put too much stake in its QS accolades. That’s because it’s already done one better. Caltech was named the No. 1 university in the world this year on another respected list, the Times Higher Education Global University Rankings. 

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