Why Utrecht professors do so well in the Shanghai Ranking’s citation index

Utrecht University among the top fifty of the world’s best universities

uu shanghai ranking
Photo by: Dick Boetekees ©

According to the Shanghai Ranking, Utrecht University is among the world’s top fifty research universities. This standing is revealed by the Shanghai Ranking that was published today. Utrecht University has risen 18 places and is now in 47th place. This high ranking is due, among other factors, to the list of frequently cited researchers. ‘We are benefiting from the pioneering work done at this university’, says Michiel van den Broeke, one of the Utrecht professors on this list.

The prestigious ranking takes into account factors such as Nobel Prize and Field Medal winners, citation scores and articles in Nature and Science. One important issue here is the ‘highly cited index’, which includes the 1% of most frequently cited academics over the last ten years. But as a researcher, how do you get to be included in this list? And does it do you any good?

‘In my case it’s because of my network’, says Maarten Krol, Professor of Meteorology and Air Quality at Utrecht University. ‘I create atmospheric composition models and I collaborate a great deal with scientists all over the world who want to use models like these in their research. This means I’m involved to a certain degree in many publications, which is reflected in the index.’ It is citation scores like Krol’s that have been helping to give Utrecht University the status of highest-ranked Dutch university in the Shanghai Ranking for the last fifteen years.

Michiel van den Broeke, Professor of Polar Meteorology, has also been in the index of most frequently cited researchers for some years now. ‘We calculate how much snow is falling and melting on Greenland and Antarctica. The university has been doing this in a qualitatively sound manner ever since the 1990s and now we’re benefiting hugely from that pioneering work. The academic world places great trust in our studies in this field and so this in turn results in many citations.’


The ‘highly cited index’ is quite highly regarded. ‘Indeed, it’s viewed as important’, says Corné Pieterse, Professor of Plant-Microbe Interactions, who is on the list as well. ‘We published an article about a new kind of immune system in plants. That was an innovative insight, so it gets you cited a lot. In my field you generally get plenty of citations if you carry out groundbreaking work. So a high citation score is one indication of this.’

In response, all three professors have also included their place in the highly cited index in their CV. Krol explains: ‘Earlier this year I received an ERC Advanced Grant and I can imagine that my citation score played a role in this. It certainly didn’t do me any harm.’

This year Dutch universities have scored well in the Shanghai Ranking. Besides Utrecht University (in position 47), the universities of Groningen (59), Rotterdam (73) and Leiden (88) are also in the top 100.