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The company was founded between 1988 and 1990 as a student initiative whilst Nunzio Quacquarelli was completing his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It held its first World MBA Tour in 1995. It provided its first QS Top MBA listing in 1996. This listing ranks the top business schools in the world. A career program, called the QS Career Forums was launched in 2002. They launched the QS World University Rankings in collaboration with Times Higher Education in 2004.
On 5 October 2017, QS Quacquarelli Symonds acquired Hobsons Solutions, the international division of Hobsons, Inc., the leading provider of international enrollment management solutions to universities worldwide.The acquisition allows QS to increase the size of its global product offering, which now incorporates products like the QS Enrolment Solutions International Student Survey (formerly Hobsons' International Student Survey), which is the world's largest survey of prospective international students.
QS has published various university rankings.
At first, it cooperated with Times Higher Education to release annual world university rankings, the THE-QS World University Rankings, since 2004 and was the data provider of the rankings. However, it ended its partnership with Times after the release of their 2009 rankings and both have worked out their own rankings afterward with QS using the same methodology while Times which has then cooperated with Thomson Reuters using an adjusted methodology. The rankings published by QS are now known as the QS World University Rankings.
Generally, the QS World University Rankings is regarded as one of the three most influential university rankings in the world, along with the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
Through their website "QS Enrolment Solutions" Quacquarelli Symonds also publishes the International Student Survey (ISS) - according to their own statement "the world's largest survey of prospective international students."  The study surveys several thousand students worldwide who plan to study abroad. The answers provide information about students' motivations, decision making and communications preferences.