Thursday, December 13, 2007

Student Faculty Ratios

Something especially striking about the THES~QS rankings this year is that British universities have done spectacularly well overall while getting miserable scores, comparatively speaking, on the citations section. We have to remember that this component does not measure the absolute numbers of citations but the number per faculty. It is then worth investigating whether the high score for student faculty ratios are the result of inflated faculty numbers which have also led to a reduced score for citations per faculty. First, I want to look at the faculty data for the top British and American universities.


Looking at the QS website we find that they claim that Cambridge has a total of 3,765 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) faculty. The data was entered on 23/8/07 by Saad Shabbir, presumably an employee of QS.

Going to the Cambridge site we find that as of July, 2005, Cambridge had 1,558 academic staff, 1,167 academic-related staff (presumably in computers, administration, libraries and so on and probably also research) and 2,497 contract research staff. Adding the first and third categories and leaving out the second, gives us 4,055, close to QS’s figure for total faculty.

It seems reasonable then to conclude that QS added academic staff to research contract staff and made an adjustment to arrive at a Full Time Equivalent (FTE) number to come up with the total faculty. No doubt they got more up to date information than is available on the university website.

With 18,309 FTE students this gives us a student faculty ratio of 4.9. This is much better than the data from third party sources. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) provides a figure of 11.9.

It looks like QS have counted both teaching staff and contract research staff who do little or no teaching as faculty members.


According to QS Oxford has 3,942 FTE faculty (data entered by Saad Shabbir 21/08/07) and 18,667 FTE students, a ratio of 4.7 students per faculty.

According to Oxford there were (July 2006) 1,407 academic staff, 612 in administration and computing, 169 library and museum staff, 753 in university funded research, 2,138 in externally funded research and 15 in self-funded research (all FTE). All this adds up to 4,094, very close to QS’s figure. It seems that for Oxford, QS has included research and other staff in the total faculty.

According to HESA Oxford has 13 students per faculty.

Imperial College London

The QS site indicates that Imperial has 2,963 FTE faculty and 12,025 FTE students (data entered by Saad Shabbir 21/08/07), a ratio of 3.03.

The Imperial site indicates 1,114 academic staff and 1,856 research staff (FTE 2006-7), a total of 2,970 academic and research staff combined. It would seem that QS have again counted research staff as faculty. This site refers to a 12,509 student load and a student staff ratio of 11.2. The HESA ratio is 9.4.


According to QS, the Harvard faculty headcount is 3,369 (data entered by Baerbel Eckelmann 8/07/07). There were 29,000 students by headcount (FTE 16,520).The headcount student faculty ratio is 8.6.

According to the United States News and World Report (USNWR), 8% of Harvard’s faculty are part-time. If part time means doing a quarter of a full time teaching load this means that Harvard’s FTE faculty would be 3,406.The FTE student faculty would then be 4.8.

The Harvard site, however, refers to a much smaller number of faculty, 2,497 non-medical faculty and to 20,042 students, making a ratio of 8.0.The USNWR indicates a ratio of 7 for Harvard (2005).

Something strange about QS’s data is that it refers to a headcount of 13,078 and 3,593 FTE undergraduates. This is something that definitely needs explaining.


According to QS, the number of faculty by headcount is 3,248. The number of students is 11, 851 by headcount and 10,845 FTE. The headcount student faculty ratio is then 3.6.

According to the Yale site, there are 3,384 faculty and 11,358 students, a ratio of 3.4. (All figures from the 2006-7 academic year.)

For the fall of 2006 the faculty headcount included:

Tenured faculty 906

Term 966

Nonladder 903

Research 609

The USNWR ratio for Yale is 6.


According to QS, the faculty headcount was 1,263 (entered by Baerbel Eckelmann 09/07/07). The number of students was 6,708 by headcount and 6,795 FTE. The headcount ratio is 5.3

According to the Princeton site, there are more than 850 FTE faculty and 7,055 students, a ratio of 8.3. USNWR has a ratio of 5.


It seems that QS’s policy is to include any sort of research staff, whether or not they do any teaching, in the category of faculty. In some cases, other professional non-teaching staff are also included. This produces student faculty ratios that are noticeably better than those that can be calculated from, and sometimes specifically stated in, the universities’ web sites or that are provided by other sources. It looks as though British universities have benefited from this more than their American counterparts.

This means, very ironically, that this measure, which is supposed to be a proxy for teaching quality, is to a large extent a reflection of a university’s commitment to research since the employment of large numbers of researchers, or even librarians and computer programmers, would lead to an improvement in this ratio.

It also looks as though leading British universities are favoured disproportionately by this procedure although a definite conclusion would have to wait more extensive analysis.

I think that we can put forward a working hypothesis that British universities have been ascribed inflated faculty numbers and that this contributes to high scores for teaching quality as measured by student faculty radio and to low scores for research as measured by citations per faculty.

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