Analysis finds substantial and sustained decline in performance of US universities since 2011 – East Asia surges, but China growth slow

  • UK and US experience greatest global performance decline over decade

  • Germany soars – toppling France to become second most represented nation in graduate employability table, after US.

  • East Asian countries see graduate employability surge – however mainland China growth comparatively slows down. 

  • Global survey of firms reveals differing priorities for workplace skills across East and West. 

US AND UK universities are struggling to keep pace with global competitors in preparing students for the modern workplace, new data analysis from the Global University Employability Ranking reveals. 

According to time series analysis – published alongside this week’s 2018 report – the performance of both nations in the ranking has declined sharply over this decade compared with other nations, with firms increasingly citing German and East Asian institutions as top producers of workplace-ready graduates.

The annual ranking – produced by HR consultancy, Emerging, and published by Times Higher Education (THE)– lists the top 150 institutions worldwide for employability,based on a global survey of around 7,000 recruitment and international managers from major businesses.

This year, new time series analysis reveals countries’ overall performancesince the first edition of the survey and ranking in 2011, based on their representation and positions (methodology and table below)

The 2018 global listing is topped by Harvard University, which climbs one spot to switch places with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Cambridge both rise one place to third and fourth, while Stanford University scales two positions this year, to place fifth. 

Global takeaways from the 2011-2018 time series

data analysis include:

  • The global employability gap is narrowing as US dominance wanes

The global top 10 of the 2018 employability ranking now spans five countries – up from four last year. 


And while the US continues to dominate the ranking, the time series data analysis reveals a swiftly narrowing global employability gap. Since 2011, the US has experienced a sharp decline in performance – greater than any other nation in the table. It comes amid intensified competition - particularly from East Asia. The nation has 34 institutions in the top 150 this year, compared to 55 in 2011, with six universities in the top 10 – a fall from seven last year.

  • The UK and France drop back – but Germany soars

The UK does largely hold its position in this year’s ranking – retaining 10 institutions. However, in 2011 it was the second best represented nation globally, with 15 in the top 150. Since then, the country’s overall performance has declined more than any other European nation. 


France has also declined since 2011. The country also has 10 institutions included in this year’s ranking - down from 12 last year, placing it global joint third with the UK.


In contrast, Germany has soared, becoming the most-improved European nation for overall performance since 2011(see final table below). It overtakes France this year to become second most represented nation globally, after the US.  Since 2011, Germany has also more than doubled its number of institutions in the top 150, to 13.


  • In East Asia, South Korea soars but China is slower to improve 

South Korea has leapt from one representative in the top 150 in 2011 to six this year - and the overall performance of its institutions in the 2018 table is up almost two-fold from last year.  

The nation’s swift ascent means it now has almost as many entries in the top 150 as China (see table below).

Hong Kong and Taiwan have also shown swift improvement, while the National University of Singapore rises to join the 2018 global top 10. 

While China does lead the region for graduate employability, it has not experienced this same surge in recent years. The nation has rocketed up THE’s World University Rankings, but for graduate employability, its rise is considerably slower – with just minimal change compared with four years ago.


Combined, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore sit far ahead of mainland China, in terms of overall performance score since 2011.


This may reflect the traditional emphasis placed by Chinese institutions on hard, practical skills, as opposed to softer skills, such as communication and teamwork, increasingly favoured by employers. 

Whereas Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, while offering strong links with industry, may also have been quicker to recognise the importance of soft skills.

Key takeaways from the 2018 Global University Employability Survey:

  • Most countries place higher value on soft skills – but China values hard skills more. The 2018 survey reveals that most countries value soft skills, such as collaboration and communication – whereas harder, practical skills are valued most in China.

  • There is an East-West divide in the importance placed on critical thinking. There was also a noticeable difference in the emphasis placed on graduates having critical thinking skills between countries in East Asia and Europe or North America. In the US, 90 per cent of employers rated this as very important, while in China this fell to 75 per cent.

  • Firms see interdisciplinary or problem-based learning as the key area for universities to strengthen: 71 per cent of respondents rated it as a very important measure to improve on - higher than any other issue.

Laurent Dupasquier, Managing Partner at Emerging, said: “Today’s digital world makes for a constantly evolving workplace – the skills required in many roles will need regular updating and it has become impossible to determine which of them will change tomorrow, and how. While digital skills are increasingly valued by recruiters, more than anything, universities must instil in students the capacity to adapt and keep learning: these will be crucial skills for success not only to cope, but thrive in a transforming workplace. University-industry collaboration will also be of increasing value, in order provide students with the necessary on-the-ground experience.”

Simon Baker, Data Editor at Times Higher Education (THE) said:  “The new data analysis reveals a substantial global shift in graduate employability this decade. We see a dramatically improved performance within East Asia and parts of Europe. By-and-large, the highest risers are those equipping students with softer skills increasingly favoured among recruiters, such as teamwork –combined with the strongest possible industry experience.”


On the UK, France and US, he added: “In contrast, we can also track the extent of the decline since 2011 among traditionally dominant countries like the US and UK. The increasingly international outlook of Asian universities, as well as the use of English becoming more widespread – removing a natural competitive advantage of the UK and US – have been two key factors behind this.”


On East Asia, he added: “In contrast with its swift rise up global research rankings, mainland China has seen minimal improvement to graduate employability compared with four years ago. Traditionally, its institutions have placed much less emphasis on the softer skills increasingly favoured by recruiters – which may explain why it hasn’t experienced the same surge other parts of East Asia.”

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