Oxbridge tops global university rankings for first time

For the first time, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have ranked top in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, partly due to increased levels of research funding from the EU.

Oxbridge tops global university rankings for first time
Two British institutions are at the top of the Times Higher Education (THE) annual World University Rankings for the first time in its 14-year history.Oxford University has retained its number one spot for a second year in the rankings of 1,000 institutions in 77 countries worldwide, while the University of Cambridge has jumped from fourth to second place.

Improved levels of research funding

Ironically, one reason for the two UK universities' high standings are as a result of improving levels of funding for research – much of which comes from the European Union and which might now be at risk of disappearing because of Britain's impending departure from the bloc.Meanwhile, California Institute of Technology, which occupied the number one position for four successive years before dropping to second last year, now shares third place with Stanford with both universities suffering falls in their PhD-to-bachelor ratios. Caltech also received a much more modest rise in its research income per academic staff member compared with the other three institutions.Prof Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, told the THE that she was “delighted that Oxford has held its position at the top of these global rankings”.She added, “To be judged the best university in the world for the second successive year, against a backdrop in which Britain’s role in the world is uncertain and the place of universities in society open to question, will be a great source of pride for everyone at Oxford, and, I hope, for the whole country.”

Success due to the pursuit of excellence

Prof Richardson attributed the university's success to “a relentless pursuit of excellence, creative brilliance and a deep commitment to our enduring values”.Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, said that the result confirms that the university “is among a small group of the most respected higher education institutions globally”.The THE commented, “Prof Richardson’s comments highlight the risk that Brexit may pose to the global position of the UK’s leading universities. Almost a quarter of Cambridge’s research funding from competitive grants comes from the European Union, while the proportion at the University of Oxford is about a fifth.”Among the top ten universities – ranked on 12 measures grouped into five areas: teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income – all came from either the US or UK with the exception of ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which shared tenth place with the University of Pennsylvania.

America's high university rankings threatened

But the THE pointed out that latest table suggested that America's high standing in the table might be threatened in future years with nearly all of the US’s top-200 representatives (59 out of 62) facing falls in their research income per academic staff member, while future levels of federal research income remain in doubt under the Trump administration.THE added, “Meanwhile, although Australia has maintained a relatively steady performance, its position in future years may suffer if the government goes ahead with plans to cut funding by 2.5 per cent, which would result in an A$2.8 billion (£1.7 billion) loss in income across the sector.”It added that the US, Australia and Europe faced increasing competition from rapidly rising institutions in Asia. “Peking University has risen two places to joint 27th, which puts it on a par with New York University and the University of Edinburgh and ahead of the Karolinska Institute.“Tsinghua University has climbed five places to 30th, overtaking the University of Melbourne, Georgia Institute of Technology, LMU Munich and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.“Both those Chinese institutions have improved in terms of their reputations for teaching and research this year – meaning that there are now three Asian universities in the top 30 of the ranking for the first time under the current methodology.”
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Additionally, Asia’s top university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), has risen two places to joint 22nd, meaning that it is level with the University of Toronto and now out-ranks Carnegie Mellon University.Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE global rankings, commented, “The UK higher education system is facing intense political pressure, with questions over the value for money provided by £9,250 tuition fees in England, our continued attractiveness to international students, the flow of research funding and academic talent post-Brexit, and even levels of vice-chancellors' pay.“But one thing this new data makes absolutely clear is that the UK has many of the very best universities in the world and it has one of the world's strongest higher education systems.“The data shows UK universities are consistently producing ground-breaking new research which is driving innovation, they are attracting international students and academic talent and are providing a world-class teaching environment.“They are a huge national asset, and one that the country can ill afford to undermine at a time when its place in the global order is under intense scrutiny.”

THE top 20 global universities

1: Oxford University2: Cambridge University3: California Institute of Technology3: Stanford University5: Massachusetts Institute of Technology6: Harvard University7: Princeton University8: Imperial College London9: University of Chicago10: ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology10: University of Pennsylvania12: Yale University13: Johns Hopkins University14: Columbia University15: University of California, Los Angeles16: University College London17: Duke University18: University of California, Berkeley19: Cornell University20: Northwestern UniversityVisit the Times Higher Education website to find out more about their annual World University Rankings.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

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