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Outstanding performance

Chinese ranking indicates USP is the 115th best university in the world

MIGUEL BOYAYAN USP campus: among the top 100 in medicine and pharmaceuticsMIGUEL BOYAYAN

The University of São Paulo (USP) ranks as the 115th best university in the world, according to the international rating of academic institutions organized by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University. USP, Brazil’s largest public university, which accounts for roughly one quarter of the country’s scientific production, climbed six positions versus the 2008 survey. The ranking also highlights institutions’ performance by field of knowledge. USP is the only Brazilian institution among the top 100 in the world in these sector rankings, specifically, in the clinical medicine and pharmaceutical areas.

The survey, which names the 500 best universities in the world, includes another five from Brazil: Unicamp (State University of Campinas), among the top 300; UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), both between the 302nd and 403rd places; and UFRGS (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul) and Unesp (Paulista State University), between the 402nd and 500th places. Harvard University is rated the best in the world, followed by two other North American institutions: The Universities of Stanford and Berkeley, California.

The Chinese ranking was established in 2003 and soon became an international reference in the evaluation of universities. Its methodology consists of a set of indicators, such as the number of Nobel Prize laureates or winners of the Fields Medal (one of the chief Mathematics awards) among its alumni and professors, along with the number of researchers whose articles achieved a high number of citations in the Thomson Scientific database, among others. Its criteria are entirely objective, contrary to those used in the Times Higher Education rating, also prestigious and published by the London newspaper, The Times. Here, 40% of the institutions’ ratings are tied to peer analysis. A set of 5,000 researchers from all continents is interviewed and each of them names a set of universities that he or she believes are excellent. As the interviewees vary, there are fluctuations from one year to the next. According to the Times Higher Education criteria, USP slipped from the 197th place to the 205th from 2008 to 2009. Unicamp also lost ground, dropping from the 249th place to the 295th (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue 165).

According to Suely Vilela, USP’s president from 2006 to 2009, the regularity reflected in the Chinese ranking does more justice to USP’s performance than the fluctuations of the British survey. “The Shanghai ranking clearly points to a stable trend. This is consistent with what is happening at USP, as graduate programs are becoming stronger, as government agencies, among which FAPESP stands out, promote research on an ongoing basis”, she stated. She added that USP’s performance in the fields of medicine and pharmaceutics comes as no surprise. “In the health area, we have 80 graduate programs, far more than is found among other areas, such as engineering, exact sciences or earth sciences, which have just slightly more than about 20 programs each”, she states.

The dean of the USP Medical School, Marcos Boulos, says that its performance in this ranking is directly connected with the government investments in the health field. “We have been getting increasingly more support from the aid agencies, in particular from FAPESP, as a result of which we can, for instance, set up multi-user labs and various support units, optimizing our research activities”, he said. For Rui Curi, director of ICB, USP’s Biomedical Sciences Institute, its position among the top 100 schools in the health area is also due to the quality of the sector’s human resources. “And the greater demand for resources in this field is due to the critical mass of a high level that we have in São Paulo State”, he said. Curi highlights that ICB, which has 145 researchers, is one of the entities that gets the highest volume of FAPESP funding per capita.