Ranking of Universities in the European Union, 2021

*The flag of the European Union.
RankInstitutionChange from 2020ARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
URParis Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University 🇫🇷 NA384440NR~ 40.67
URKarolinska Institute 🇸🇪NA42NR394843
🥇Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich 🇩🇪4864324647.5
🥈Technical University of Munich 🇩🇪5250387453.5
🥉Heidelberg University 🇩🇪5763425454
4Sorbonne University 🇫🇷+13572884660.25
5University of Copenhagen 🇩🇰-13079963760.5
6Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven 🇧🇪+18770424861.75
7University of Amsterdam 🇳🇱-110155653864.75
8Paris-Saclay University 🇫🇷NA13861176069
9Utrecht University 🇳🇱-150110694869.25
URCharité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin 🇩🇪NANRNR73NR73
10Leiden University 🇳🇱83112718287
11Wageningen University & Research 🇳🇱+2101123538089.25
12University of Groningen 🇳🇱-164128808890
URHumboldt University of Berlin 🇩🇪NANR1287478~ 93.33
13University of Helsinki 🇫🇮-4821041019495.25
14Ghent University 🇧🇪-2711419692100
URFree University of Berlin 🇩🇪NANR1278395~ 101.67
15Erasmus University Rotterdam 🇳🇱1011797262103.5
16Aarhus University 🇩🇰71155104103108.25
17Uppsala University 🇸🇪-378124131113111.5
18Lund University 🇸🇪-11518711695112.25
19Delft University of Technology 🇳🇱-11515775174114.25
20Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 🇳🇱10120911584127.25
Figure 1. Ranking of universities in the European Union for the year 2021.

This is a ranking of the top 20 universities in the European Union ranked relative to each other by average world rank for the year 2021.

Overview and methodology

The ranking was created by averaging ranking placements from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2021): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was checked on each list for every EU university ranked on each of the lists. Then, for each university, all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on. 

Finally, the results were tabled, as shown above. The leftmost column shows the final rank (which is relative placement based on average rank, i.e.). The next, institution, column shows the institution ranked along with the flag of the country in which it is located. The next, change from 2020, column shows the distance moved for each institution compared to the 2020 ranking. The next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World Rank”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university. 

Only universities which were ranked on all four lists are counted. Universities which would have appeared had they been ranked by all the rankings are displayed in the ranking where they would have ranked if their average rank was the result of an average across all four rankings. Thus, for example, Humboldt University of Berlin is shown between the 14th and 15th ranked universities, as it would have ranked 15th if it appeared on all four rankings (and maintained its average from the ranking it did appear on). Rather than receiving a ranking placement, universities appearing in these positions are marked “UR” (unrankable) in the rank column, and “NR” (not ranked) in rankings lists in which they were not ranked.


  • German universities take the top three spots (again).
  • Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University would have placed 1st. It had roughly the 41st ranking placement in the world; yet it is still unranked by USNWR, and thus does not qualify. See more about this here.
  • Meanwhile, Karolinska Institute would have placed 2nd, with a 43 average (unranked by QS).
  • The Netherlands has the most universities appearing in the top 20, with 8. The Nordic countries, together, have 5. Belgium and France each have two. No other countries make the top 20.
  • Wageningen University & Research advanced the most places compared to any university which made the list in 2020 and 2021, moving up to 11th from 13th.
  • Paris-Saclay University debuts for the first time in the top 20, at 8. This marks the largest advancement of any university on the list.
  • University of Helsinki has moved downward the most places compared to last year, moving out of the top 10, to 13th.
  • Overall, European Union universities have advanced in world university rankings in 2021. Whereas last year ranked EU universities average sum came out to 1768.25 (2020), this year the sum is 1679 (2021) — a roughly 90 place difference upward. One major contributor to this upward movement is the appearance of Paris-Saclay University at #8. Last year, it was not even near the top 20.
  • The top 14 EU universities all average within the top 100 worldwide.
  • Just one EU university — LMU Munich — averages within the top 50 worldwide.
  • THE best predicts the summed average.
  • QS worst predicts the summed average.

In my opinion, global university rankings are not a measure of how “good” a university is. They are, centrally, a measure of university reputation among people in administrative positions in academics. How good a university is for you depends on what your goals are. It is almost entirely contextual. Thus, the rankings I do — which are based on average placements in world university rankings — ought to be seen not as a measure of how good a university is, but as a measure of the average opinion of an academic administrator you’ll get if you ask them to talk about a given university from a global perspective. In this spirit, I offer you a deflationary university ranking.

*The header image used in the article is, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain. If this is in error, please let me know and I will remove it immediately. To report errors, please email me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

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