Top 10 engineering and technology universities in the world

Ben Sampson

Which is the best engineering university in the world? PE's ranking reveals where the leading research and most international institutions are.

US engineering and technology institutions dominate the list, both private and public, reflecting the size and reputation of North American engineering research heavyweights like MIT, Stanford and Berkeley.

Imperial College London ranks as the best European university at which to study engineering, followed by the Swiss University, the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) and the University of Cambridge. Most commentators agree that the UK “punches above its weight” when it comes to research universities and this list, which is effectively a poll of polls, reflects that.

Asian universities just miss out on the top 10, with Tsinghua University and the University of Singapore ranking highest in this region. Also outside of the US-dominance of the top ten, other European countries are better represented in the top 20, including Delft and Munich Technical University, and the Swiss University École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.

A quick note on methodolgy. The ranking is an analysis the most recent data from three widely published rankings and surveys. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (AWRU), the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings. The AWRU rankings, which is also known as the Shanghai List because of where it is compiled was updated most recently, earlier this month.

Each ranking has been running for several years and is well regarded for the integrity of its surveys. Each uses slightly different methodologies, but generally use metrics according to quality of education, quality of the faculty and research output. Some include data on international outlook and knowledge transfer, while others focus on student experience.

Each university’s position in this ranking is decided according to the frequency of inclusion and position in the top twenty of the three ranking systems. More detail on each university’s scores and the methodologies used can be found at each website.


1. MIT

With an enviable global reputation for quality research and faculty members, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has produced more than 70 nobel laureates during the last 150 years. The institute has around 11,000 staff members, almost 2,000 of which are teaching staff, and 11,300 students on its 138 acre site in Boston. The last academic year there was 2,600 international students on the campus.

A wide range of engineering courses, from mechanical and materials to aeronautics and nuclear science are offered alongside science, humanities and management courses. According to MIT, research is its “soul” - this is where the guidance system for the Apollo space program was developed, where penicillin was synthesised chemically for the first time and where computer memory was invented. Today, the broad range of pioneering research regularly grabs headlines around the world, whether its in materials, the process industry, or worm-inspired robotics.

MIT is also behind one of the internet’s most successful online schools for engineering and technology. Edx offers MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses) as a viable way for those who want to sample the Institutes teaching.


2. Stanford

Named after its founder, Leland Stanford, who founded the University in 1891, Stanford has 16,000 students studying at its campus in Palo Alto near San Francisco. With 2,043 faculty members the student to faculty ratio is 5:1. A private university, it is known to be one of the most selective in the US and is intrinsically linked with Silicon Valley. Many of the technologies that led to the region’s rise and continued prominent role in the electronics sector were pioneered at Stanford.

Some 5,000 students study in Stanford’s comprehensive Engineering School, which also hosts the University’s largest group of graduate students. The Engineering School’s alumni have a stunning pedifree, having gone on to start 12,700 companies, including some of the largest IT companies in the world such as Google, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco.

Every faculty member engaged in research activity and 5,100 externally funded projects last year. Stanford is home to the linear accelerator, which engages in materials and energy research. Recent examples of projects to gain global attention include this study which looked at the aerodynamic performance of drones and hummingbirds and this research into lithium battery anodes.


3. University of California

The University of California is spread over ten different sites with 235,000 students, 19,000 faculty members and 190,000 staff members. It’s first campus, UC Berkeley, was opened in 1868. Berkeley also ranks the highest out of the ten campuses for the quality of its engineering teaching and research, followed by the UCLA (Los Angeles) and Santa Barbara.

Berkeley’s 1,200 acre campus overlooks San Francisco bay and is well-known for its extensive libraries and laboratories. The university hosts 36,000 students, 1600 full-time and 600 part-time faculty members. There are around 3,200 students in the universities School of Engineering. In 2013’s academic year electrical engineering and computer science was the university’s most popular course. The School also has large mechanical, nuclear and bio -engineering departments, amongst others.  

Berkeley is where plutonium was discovered in 1941 and where development of the first atomic bomb was directed from. It’s engineering research activities today covers several different areas including electronics, robotics, the environment and biomedical. The largest laboratory is the electronics laboratory, which conducts research into areas including sensors and actuators. A great example of the research work is this project which automatically corrects screen displays to allow for visual impairments and eliminate the need for spectacles.


4. Caltech

This comparatively small private research university has a strong emphasis on engineering. Located on a 124 acre campus in Pasadena, California, near Los Angeles, the University has around 2,200 students and 300 faculty members.

The University is organised into six academic divisions, including Biological Enginering, Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Physics and Astronomy. The emphasis of research is on physical science – for which it receives amongst the highest amounts of grants for and dedicates the most research space to.

Caltech's claims to research fame include being the University where physicist Richard Feynman conducted research into quantum computing and electrodynamics while introducing the concept of nanotechnology. The University also has strong links to Nasa and space research – Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was established here in the 1940s and the University continues to manage its activities.

5. Imperial College London

Officially part of the University of London until 2007, when it became fully independent as part of its centenary celebrations, Imperial College's main campus in West London, where it specialises in offering courses and hosting research in science, engineering and medicine. The university has 14,400 students and 3,300 academic staff and is organised into the three faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Natural Sciences. It has some 4,500 international students. The Engineering faculty is one of the largest in Europe, with 1,500 and almost 6,000 students in areas from mechanical engineering to computing.

The engineering research conducted at the university covers a diverse range, for example, from research into catalytic converters in cars to carbon dioxide storage in rocks.

Some of Imperial's famous alumni include penicillin-discoverer Alexander Fleming and H.G. Wells. The university reportedly has the largest brain bank in the world, for research into Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis.

6. ETH Zurich

This Swiss university has more than18,000 students form 110 countries, 500 professors and 10,500 staff members. ETH Zurich was founded in 1855 and its focus on technology and natural sciences. The university's most famous alumnus is Albert Einstein, although it has produced 20 other Nobel Laureates.

The University is split into four main faculties, architecture and civil engineering, Engineering Sciences and Natural Sciences. The language of instruction at undergraduate level is German and at graduate level it is English, while a massive 70% of ETH Zurich's are from outside of Switzerland, making this a very international institution. The University also has very strong links to industry.

Examples of recent research include this study into arthiritis and global warming. Researchers from ETH Zurich have also been grabbing headlines recently for robotics research.

7. University of Cambridge

A University renown around the world, Cambridge is the second-oldest University in the English speaking world. It has 12,000 students and 10,000 staff and a strong international – 1,300 students are from outside of Europe.

Engineering is the largest department at the University of Cambridge, with 132 faculty, 195 contract research staff and research fellows, nearly 600 research students and over 1000 undergraduates. Notable alumni include Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine and Harry Ricardo, famous for his work in automotive engine design and founder of the Ricardo consultancy.

Research such as this project into high temperature semi-conductors or this application of graphene for cameras, or maybe even this research into chocolate ensure the university stays at the forefront of engineering research.

8. University of Texas at Austin

Back to the US and again a diverse student body and faculty, with 9% of students classed as international. Founded in 1883, its 350 acres main campus has 17 colleges and schools with around 24,000 staff and more than 50,000 students.

The university's Cockrell School of Engineering has more than 7,700 students enrolled, 280 professors, 680 staff and 13 undergraduate degree programs. The school has strong links to the oil and gas industry, but also has a strong research pedigree in other areas of energy research, biomedical, IT and electronics. For example this recent project has developed this probe to help detect cancer while BP recently invested in a fracking research program at the university.

9. Georgia Tech

This science and technology-focussed public university has more than 21,000 students and around 7,000 academic staff. Located in Atlanta, the University was founded in 1885 as part of plans to build an industrial economy in the American south, and to this day has strong links to regional industry.

The university is divided into six schools and covers 10 separate fields of study with more than 9,000 students and consistently achieves high rankings in US research university rankings and credits itself as helping the US transform from an industrial to information economy. It has a diverse range of research areas – from UAVs to biopharmaceuticals.

10. Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon University has more than 12,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff. The main campus is Pittsburgh, and it also has sites in Qatar and Silicon Valley.

The university has seven schools and colleges and with almost 4,000 students, the College of Engineering represents 30% of the entire student body of the University. Almost 19% of the college's undergraduates are from outside of the US.

Carnegie is perhaps best-known for its research and expertise in robotics, having developed the software that guides NASA’s Mars rovers and crash avoidance systems in cars. The current research focus in this area is developing systems to help the elderly with household chores, respond to natural or man-made disasters and a project to land a robot on the moon in 2015.


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