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Yasuda Auditorium at the University of Tokyo, which placed tenth in the 2016 Global University Employability Ranking. [Image: King Salmon/Creative Commons]

U.S. universities frequently worry about losing their competitive edge relative to schools in other countries. Yet a recent study from Times Higher Education (THE) suggests that U.S. institutions remain international leaders in at least one concrete indicator of success: the “employability” of their graduates.

In THE’s recently published, sixth annual Global University Employability Ranking—based on a yearly survey of recruiting managers from large international businesses on which schools best prepare graduates with the necessary workplace skills—universities in the United States took the top three spots, with six U.S. universities in the top ten. The survey also had some interesting qualitative things to say about the types of skills most valued by employers in different countries.

Familiar names

Perhaps not surprisingly, the U.S. universities ranking highest in employability were higher-ed household names—large research-driven institutions and Ivy League schools. At the top of the list was the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), USA (which had weighed in only at fourth place in the 2015 survey), followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University (which fell from its number-one ranking in 2015). Other U.S. schools rated among the top ten in global employability were Stanford University, Yale University, and Princeton University.

U.S. institutions also showed a strong presence in global employability across the full THE list; 37 of the 150 universities on the list, or nearly 25 percent, were U.S.-based. (That was actually down slightly relative to the 2015 survey, in which 39 of the 150 were U.S. schools.) France, Germany, and the United Kingdom each had 11 institutions on the 2016 list. China (seven institutions) and Hong Kong (four institutions) also had 11 institutions on the ranking.

In comparing the 2015 and 2016 surveys, some noticeable differences are evident. The Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany, which ranked eleventh in 2015, moved up three spots to eighth place in 2016, breaking into the top ten. Overall, 11 German institutions were named to the 2016 survey, while only eight were named in 2015. The University of Tokyo (Japan) also cracked the top ten in the most recent survey, jumping two spots from the previous year.  On the flip side, the École Normale Supérieure (France), which ranked thirteenth in graduate employability in the 2015 survey, saw a surprising drop to thirty-third place in 2016.

Different countries, different skills

The research for the annual list was commissioned by the France-based human resources consultancy Emerging, and conducted by Trendence, one of Europe’s leading research institutes. Emerging worked with 2,500 recruitment managers from large international companies in 20 countries to create the rankings. Recruitment managers were asked to define what they look for in graduates, and which universities have been most successful at meeting their company’s needs.

The study found that needs of employers seem to vary by location. Employers in the United States, United Kingdom, France and India prioritize students with strong communication skills. Elsewhere, in Germany and China, employers valued adaptability over communication skills. Additionally, American employers placed more importance than others did on a broad range of skills and experiences, including the ability to work under pressure as well as multicultural sensitivity/awareness.

The top 30 out of the 150 schools named to the 2016 list are shown in the table below.

Rank Institution Name Country
1 California Institute of Technology United States
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
3 Harvard University United States
4 University Of Cambridge United Kingdom
5 Stanford University United States
6 Yale University United States
7 University of Oxford United Kingdom
8 Technical University of Munich Germany
9 Princeton University United States
10 University of Tokyo Japan
11 Boston University United States
12 Columbia University United States
13 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
14 University of Toronto Canada
15 National University of Singapore Singapore
16 Imperial College London United Kingdom
17 Peking University China
18 McGill University Canada
19 University of California, Berkeley United States
20 Tokyo Institute of Technology Japan
21 H.E.C. Paris France
22 Australian National University Australia
23 King's College London United Kingdom
24 University of Manchester United Kingdom
25 Spain - IE Univ Spain
26 EM Lyon France
27 ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
28 Duke University United States
29 Johns Hopkins University United States
30 Brigham Young University United States