Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the best university in the world for a dozen subjects in this year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject – more than any other university

MIT is closely followed by Harvard University and the University of Oxford, which are ranked best in the world for 11 and eight subjects respectively.

48 different subjects are included in the 10th edition of the subject rankings, with 13,138 individual university programs assessed and ranked.

Some of the most popular subjects are examined in closer detail below. One notable trend this year is – despite MIT and Harvard’s impressive performance – US universities appear to be declining, with fewer US degree programs featuring in the top 50 than last year. 

The UK, India and mainland China have all seen improvements on last year’s performance, although not all at the same rate. QS Director of Research Ben Sowter noted: “Our dataset has illuminated a slowdown in Chinese progress. However, their trajectory is still superior to that of American universities.”

Arts and humanities

For the sixth consecutive year, the UK’s Royal College of Art tops the art & design subject rankings table, one of 11 arts and humanities subjects to be featured this year. US schools dominate the rest of the top 10, taking five of the remaining nine places. Also in the top 10 is Finland’s Aalto University. No other Finnish institution is ranked this highly across the 48 subjects.

In the architecture subject rankings table – another of the most popular subjects with our readers – MIT takes the top spot from UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture. Further down, Sweden has a representative in the top 20 for the first time: KTH Royal Institute of Technology has climbed to 20th.

Engineering and technology

600 different universities are included in this year’s computer science ranking, with MIT ranked in first place for the fifth straight year. Half of the top 10 are from the US, while there is no Asian university in the top 10 this year. Although the National University of Singapore is still the top computer science program in the region, it’s slipped to 12th globally.

The two most popular engineering degrees with our readers are electrical and mechanical engineering – two subjects which MIT again ranks top for. Of particular note this year is the strong performance of Asian universities, particularly in the electrical engineering table. Mainland China’s Tsinghua University rises to 11th, marginally ahead of the National University of Singapore (12th); South Korea’s KAIST features in joint 17th, and Japan’s University of Tokyo can be found in joint 20th.

Life sciences and medicine

A new university tops this year’s dentistry table: King’s College London has climbed to first place, it’s best-ever performance in the QS subject rankings. Queen Mary of University London (QMUL) also performs remarkably well, ranking 11th in its debut appearance in the ranking.

The ranking of top medical schools is mostly dominated by Anglosphere universities, with nine of the top 10 hailing from either the UK or US. Sweden’s Karolinska Institute is the only medical school bucking the trend in the top 10, and you have to go down to 22nd to find another university from a non-English-speaking country.

As well as topping the medical school ranking, Harvard University is also ranked in first place for psychology. Asia’s best psychology program can be found at the National University of Singapore; it has improved from 33rd to 26th year-on-year – its best-ever performance in the subject.

Finally, there’s a new top university in the veterinary science table. The University of California, Davis has regained the number one spot, having previously lost it to the Royal Veterinary College in the UK.

Natural sciences

There’s only one new entrant in the top universities for mathematics this year. Tsinghua University has risen five places to 20th, it’s best-ever performance. One of the indicators used to compile the rankings (for more information, consult our methodology) is employer reputation, and nearly 20,000 survey responses from hiring managers and employers that hire mathematics graduates were considered this year. 

In the physics subject ranking table, the most notable mover in the top 20 is the University of Chicago which has climbed five places to 12th. The top university in Europe for the subject is ETH Zurich, which is ranked ninth.

Social sciences and management

Not to be confused with our ranking of the best full-time MBA programs (the QS Global MBA Rankings), the business & management subject rankings table allows you to see which universities provide the best education for the subject across both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. This year, Harvard Business School is once again top for business & management, while there are notable schools from France, the US and the Netherlands which can all be happy with their performance this year.

Harvard also tops this year’s economics ranking, helped by the fact it was the best-performing university in our global survey of employers. The top 10 universities for this subject are all based in the UK and US – Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi from Italy is the first to break the duopoly.

Law and politics are the other two most popular social sciences covered by our ranking, and Harvard University is once again the best in the world for both of these. However, Yale University out-performs Harvard for research in the field of law, suggesting there’s still some room for improvement at the world’s best law school. In the politics ranking, the University of Oxford has fallen below second place for the first time ever.