Top university rankings rarely diverge far from the usual institutions that have for centuries produced top talent across various traditional industries.
But when it comes to shaping minds for the jobs of the future, there's some new competition.
That's certainly the case for the developer industry, according to a new study, which has turned traditional analysis on its head to focus on graduates' skills rather than universities' quality of research and teaching.
The report from HackerRank, a technical hiring platform, ranked universities across four important technical skills most sought by employers to determine the top universities for developers across North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, and found some interesting outliers.
The four skills measured were:
- problem solving
- language proficiency
- data structures knowledge
- computer science (CS) fundamentals.
The research, which is based on over 1.4 million assessments completed by students on HackerRank's platform between January 2017 and June 2019, contrasts with traditional lists, such as the Times Higher Education CS rankings, which focus on factors including teaching, research, international outlook and industry income.
Here's the list of the top universities for developers — based on skills:
University of California, Berkeley emerged as the leader in HackerRank's list of top North American universities, despite failing to make the cut in the Times' ranking.
Berkeley placed within the top five across all four technical skills areas, well ahead of regular U.S. heavyweights including Stanford, MIT and Princeton.
HackerRank said that was likely because of UC-Berkley's prominent developer culture and a "CS curriculum which emphasizes working on interdisciplinary real-world projects."
Elsewhere, the University of Southern California was another strong performer, ranking in three of the four categories. Just one Canadian university — the University of Toronto — made it into the U.S.-dominated list.
India leads the way when it comes to nurturing top developer skills, according to HackerRank's study.
Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — a system of 23 independent but interconnected public universities across India — dominated the list, with IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras performing especially well across the board.
Just two universities from outside the IIT system made the list: Banaras Hindu University and Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT).
The latter scored particularly well, securing top three rankings across all four skill sections. Unlike the IIT system, VIT is a private university with what it calls a "futuristic technical education" including six specialty majors within computer science. VIT's CS program placed in the bottom sixth of the Times' CS ranking.
Set within a varied list, Imperial College London was the only university within Europe and the Middle East that placed across the board.
The British university, which placed 11th in the Times' CS ranking, puts an emphasis on practical work and developing "transferable problem solving skills, rather than the teaching of specific technologies."
Imperial College London was a particularly strong performer, ranking top within three categories. Meanwhile, the lesser known Bilkent University in Turkey, which ranked in the bottom sixth of the Times' list, demonstrated particular strength in nurturing computer science fundamentals and data structure knowledge.
HackerRank's co-founder and CEO Vivek Ravisankar told CNBC Make It that assessing universities on skills development is becoming increasingly important as employers look to operate in a fast-changing work environment.
"These rankings show the value of practical skills-based curricula," said Ravisankar. "Given that there's still a gap between academia and real-world skills, I would suggest more universities to begin introducing skill-based classes in addition to theory and research-based courses."
That's especially true for employers seeking high-demand, technical professionals in the developer space, he noted.
"As the demand for developers continues to grow at a rapid pace, hiring managers need to look at a wide range of universities, not just the top-tier universities, look beyond resumes, and focus on skills to find the quality technical talent they need."
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