The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) was first published in June 2003 by the Center for World-Class Universities (CWCU), Graduate School of Education (formerly the Institute of Higher Education) of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, and updated on an annual basis. Since 2009 the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) has been published and copyrighted by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy. ShanghaiRanking Consultancy is a fully independent organization on higher education intelligence and not legally subordinated to any universities or government agencies.
ARWU uses six objective indicators to rank world universities, including the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers selected by Clarivate Analytics, number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index - Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, and per capita performance of a university. More than 1800 universities are actually ranked by ARWU every year and the best 1000 are published.
Although the initial purpose of ARWU was to find the global standing of top Chinese universities, it has attracted a great deal of attention from universities, governments and public media worldwide. ARWU has been reported by mainstream media in almost all major countries. Hundreds of universities cited the ranking results in their campus news, annual reports or promotional brochures. A survey on higher education published by The Economist in 2005 commented ARWU as "the most widely used annual ranking of the world’s research universities". Burton Bollag, a reporter at Chronicle of Higher Education wrote that ARWU "is considered the most influential international ranking".
One of the factors for the significant influence of ARWU is that its methodology is scientifically sound, stable and transparent. The EU Research Headlines reported ARWU work on 31st December 2003: "The universities were carefully evaluated using several indicators of research performance." Chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, said "it looks like a pretty good stab at a fair comparison." Professor Simon Margison of Institute of Education, University of London commented that one of the strengths of "the academically rigorous and globally inclusive Jiao Tong approach" is "constantly tuning its rankings and invites open collaboration in that".
ARWU and its content have been widely cited and employed as a starting point for identifying national strengths and weaknesses as well as facilitating reform and setting new initiatives. Bill Destler, the President of the Rochester Institute of Technology, drew reference to ARWU to analyze the comparative advantages that the Western Europe and US have in terms of intellectual talent and creativity in his publication in the journal Nature. Martin Enserink referred to ARWU and argued in his paper published in Science that "France’s poor showing in the Shanghai ranking … helped trigger a national debate about higher education that resulted in a new law… giving universities more freedom".