The global center of mass of higher education: university rankings mapped

Click here if you prefer to read this post on (2 minute read).
Click here to look at the data visualization only on

It is often-touted that the world has been shifting towards Asia (On all fronts, even Formula 1 🙂 ). Indeed, innovation has clearly gotten a good foothold in the East and higher education has been no exception: in the last 10 years the global center of mass of the top ranked 500 universities has been constantly shifting towards East: 650 kilometers, to be precise. To visualize this, I have created a dynamic map that tracks the top 500 universities and the global center of mass (geocenter) of higher education over the past 10 years!

The global center of mass of higher education: university rankings mapped
Dynamic map of the global center of mass of higher education between 2003-2014 – click for interactive

The geocenter of the top 500 universities in 2003 laid just off of the coast of Portugal. In the past decade, this point (red triangles in the map) has been constantly moving towards East, hovering over the border between Morocco and Algeria by 2014. This phenomenon can be attributed to the appearance of many Chinese universities in the list, as well as some from other Asian countries (Malaysia and Saudi Arabia in particular), and the strengthening of Korean and Japanese entries.

The above calculations are the results of an unweighted arithmetic average of the geographic coordinates of the universities that made the top 500 list, meaning that each university who made list had an equal weight. However, it is fair to calculate the geocenter taking into account the rankings of the universities. When accounting for this (using 1/sqrt(rank) as weights, green triangles in the map) we observe an (expected) shift towards North America, and the United States in particular, where most of the top 100 universities are located, including 8 of the top 10. The weighted geocenter has been constantly hovering further out in the Atlantic, above the Azores, in the past 10 years, but it had a smoother migration towards East than the unweighted one. This means that while it is true that many new Asian entries appeared on the list, they have managed to move up the rankings a bit as well.

The data source for this visualization was the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The data has been processed into JSON format with this IPython notebook, with help from pandas. The universities has been placed on the world map using topojson, after being geocoded by geopy using the MapQuest and Google Maps V3 APIs. the  The visualizations have been done entirely in d3.js and the svg language. The main outcomes are dynamic map of the Global center of mass of higher education between 2003-2014 (static, interactive). If you liked this post or have any questions or thoughts, Like, Share, Comment, and Subscribe!


Published by Dénes Csala

AI | DATA | ENERGY | SYSTEMS researcher | thinker | modeler | blogger | traveller

3 thoughts on “The global center of mass of higher education: university rankings mapped

  1. Excelent work!, csn I ask you for the code for the timeline?, I looking into integrate one to one of my maps too..



  2. Thx for the kind words! You can find the code of the timeline is in the variable “densityslider” in the source code of the page. It is built on dragdealer.js.


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