US and UK universities continue to top global rankings

For the sixth year running, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been ranked the best university in the world in the annual QS World University Rankings.

Once again, American and British universities dominate the top 10 spots with only the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology managing to sneak in at tenth spot.MIT was described as “the nucleus of an unrivalled innovation ecosystem” by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the education analysis and supply firm that noted that companies created by the Boston university’s alumni had a combined revenue of $2 trillion, the equivalent of the world’s 11th largest economy.The other institutions filling the top 10 rankings were, in order, Stanford University, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London and the University of Chicago.But despite the continuing dominance of US and UK universities at the top of the table, QS pointed out that many other universities in those two countries were now being overtaken by “the best of Australia, Russia, China, Singapore and India – among others”.QS, which has been producing annual rankings since 2004, surveyed more than 75,000 academics and more than 40,000 employers, to assess more than 900 universities across the world. It used six metrics: academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-to-student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio and international student ratio.Despite the high ranking of the top four UK universities, overall other British institutions slipped down the rankings with 51 of the 76 ranked by QS being demoted this year, including 16 members of the Russell Group – the organisation representing the nation’s top 24 universities.Increasing competition from universities elsewhere in the world, squeezes on institutions’ resources, a drop in overseas student numbers and – according to some academics – a drive to recruit more students from less advantaged backgrounds were said to be behind the falls in the British standings.

Strain on resources

Ben Sowter, the London-based head of research at QS, said, “Though the temptation may be to attribute the UK’s second year of struggle to Brexit, we would warn against doing so. Much of the data we collect for these tables has been collected over a five-year period, and the first year of post-Brexit internationalisation scores suggests that there has, thus far, been a minimal impact on international student and faculty rates at UK institutions.“Of greater importance, we believe, is the continued strain on university resources, which appears to be having a deleterious impact on not just research, but also the capacity to deliver world-class teaching. Also of greater significance than Brexit is the simple and unavoidable truth that these rankings are a relative exercise, and the rest of the world is becoming increasingly competitive.”
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UK remains world leader in HE

Dr Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group, said, “The UK remains a world-leader in higher education and Russell Group universities have been fundamental to this success. Our members continue to deliver an excellent teaching and learning experience for students. By this ranking, four of the top 10 universities in the world are Russell Group institutions.“Of course, there is always room for improvement and maintaining our global position in teaching, research and innovation requires investment. For a number of years, funding for teaching has been squeezed. The position is particularly acute in engineering and some of the sciences where the need for specialist facilities, equipment and technical support adds to the cost of teaching.“This is something that the new government will have to look at closely if universities are to deliver the jobs and growth that we all want to see for the UK.”Dr Joanna Williams, a senior lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent, added, “Universities are casting the net a lot wider and reaching out to more socially diverse groups, which is good.“But it means you can’t assume that students come in with a body of knowledge and you have to spend a certain amount of time bringing them up to standard.”She said that universities were giving lower A-level offers – not just to disadvantaged students but to all students – in order to fill places.For related news and features, visit our Education & Schools section.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centre