Why is research at highly productive research institutions better than those at not-so-highly productive research institutions?

Unfortunately the answers to that question focus on critiquing how the rankings came about, which are not really relevant to what I want to ask. Clearly I worded the question poorly. I've already tried to focus the question by editing out the mention of Zhejiang University (depressingly this still led to responses about the anglosphere and whatnot even though I'd left in a note that I'm not interested in cultural factors), but it's evidently not good enough and people continue to interpret the question in a different way.

What I really want to ask (as I wrote in a comment to Thomas's answer):

Assuming you are an academic, you'll have some idea where the best research in your field is performed. If you next compare where that is versus where the top universities in the world are, you should see a positive correlation. The question asks why there is a correlation.

I don't think this question is salvageable unfortunately. What should I do now?

  • Start another question with "is research at Oxford in general better than at Southampton?" If the answer to this is yes, then I can start another question after that linking to this question. However this seems like an overly narrow question since it explicitly names two universities only.
  • Start another question with "why is research at Oxford in general better than at Southampton?". Same issue as the previous option: it's narrow.
  • Start another question picking universities by THE reputation rankings, which might sidestep objections based on ranking methodology; however it's not apparent to me that the universities with the best reputations also do the best research (looking at the list itself, they should, but in a vacuum there does not have to be a correlation between the two factors).
  • Do nothing and accept paul garrett's answer.
  • Something else?

2 Answers 2


I think the problem with the original question, as well as all suggested modifications, is that there is not really a meaningful question. You seem to be asking why there is a correlation between a university doing research that is perceived as "good", and a metric that is based on how good the research at a university is perceived to be. It's really quite circular.

  • Thanks for answer. I see where the circularity is coming from now - will need to think about how to edit the question.
    – Allure
    Jan 14, 2019 at 3:19

I am not sure what you mean by best universities, but for the UK you could ask if there is a correlation between REF ranking (research) and student satisfaction rankings, and if so why they are correlated.

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