Oxford still atop the global university table

For the fifth year running, the University of Oxford has been adjudged the globe's finest university in the 2020-21 Times Higher Education (THE) 'World University Rankings'.

Oxford must have taken particular pleasure in the rankings announcement as its great British rival, Cambridge University, slipped from third to sixth in a top ten that was otherwise dominated by American colleges.But the real story in this year's rankings was the rise of universities in Asia, particularly in China where Tsinghua University rose to joint 20th to become the continent's first ever university to be ranked in the top 20.In total, there are now 16 Asian universities in the top 100, the highest total since the rankings began.Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, commented: "For several years we have been observing a slow shift in global higher education as Asian universities have climbed at the expense of their western counterparts. With mainland China's Tsinghua University breaking into the top 20 for the first time, and the country doubling its year-on-year representation in the top 100 from three to six, it's clear this is not a short-term thing."This trend is likely to accelerate further as the coronavirus pandemic heralds a perfect storm of huge challenges for primarily western universities, particularly those in the UK who, along with the US, face the very real risk of losing significant international student talent, and the huge amount of income that they bring."In the longer term, possibly permanent shifts in the global flow of academic talent that has traditionally fuelled the elite institutions of the US and UK could create real challenges."While the universities at the very top of the table, with long histories of success and prestige, will prove hard to unseat, these factors, combined with the effects of a possible deep and long-lasting global recession and its likely impact on university funding levels, could herald the start a dramatic re-balancing of the global knowledge economy."However, in terms of rankings in the top 200, the US continues to dominate with 59 institutions represented. The UK comes second with 29, followed by Germany with 21.However, THE said in a statement: "Overall, European representation is in a steady decline, losing nine places in the past five years (105 in 2016, 96 in 2020-21). This is a result of China, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Canada all gaining positions in the same period."However, it is not all doom and gloom for Europe, as Germany's top five performing universities in the 2021 ranking all improve or equal their 2020 ranking positions."Prof Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said she was delighted that the university had consolidated its position at the top of the rankings."The international standing of British Higher Education is a testament to generations of investment in education, as well as to our extraordinarily talented staff and students," she said."The Covid-19 pandemic, which has posed such a threat to higher education around the world, has also demonstrated the critical role universities play in addressing global challenges."The THE rates universities on performance indicators are grouped into five areas: teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff, students and research); and industry income (knowledge transfer).THE top 10:1. University of Oxford
2. Stanford University
3. Harvard University
4. California Institute of Technology
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. University of Cambridge
7. University of California, Berkeley
8. Yale University
9. Princeton University
10. University of Chicago

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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