My Caltech graduating class was 186 kids. How many schools that size can compete with Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley or Cambridge in anything?
A reasonable university ranking metric should have components that are normalized to size. For example, the number of citations or publications or research dollars per professor (or per student) is more informative than the absolute number. Otherwise schools with 50 or 100 thousand students would have a misleading advantage over smaller schools. But once you try to adjust your metrics to take this into account it is very hard to keep Caltech from coming out as number one. You basically have to cook the books ;-)
TimesHigherEducation: ... In the eight years that Times Higher Education has published a global university ranking, one thing had always seemed unassailable: Harvard University's position as the world's number one. Not any more.
Harvard - the world's best-known university, boasting a brand some sources rate as more valuable than Pepsi, Nike or Sony - has this year been pushed off the top spot.
Most remarkably, the 375-year-old colossus of global higher education has been toppled by a much younger, much smaller upstart from the West Coast of the US. The world's number one for 2011-12 is the California Institute of Technology, better known as Caltech. Why? It is clear that the differences at the pinnacle of the World University Rankings are minuscule. In terms of the overall score for each institution, the gap last year between first-placed Harvard and second-placed Caltech was 0.1 point.
This year, Caltech pips Harvard with marginally better scores for "research - volume, income and reputation", research influence (measured by paper citations) and (most substantially) the income it attracts from industry. Harvard just beats Caltech for the quality of its teaching environment.
Don't take it from me, or some crazy ranking metric, just ask (Economics) Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith, who attended both institutions:
At Harvard they believe they are the best in the world; at Caltech they know they are the best in the world
... The first thing to which one has to adapt is the fact that no matter how high people might sample in the right tail of the distribution for "intelligence," ... that sample is still normally distributed in performing on the materials in the Caltech curriculum.