The UK is a global higher education superpower


The Times Higher Education (THE) has published the 2015 THE World Reputation Rankings – a definitive list of the world’s 100 most prestigious universities, based on the largest invitation-only survey of senior academics across the world.

Research has shown that a university’s “reputation/ranking” is the single most important consideration for students choosing study destinations, and that institutional reputation is the number one factor for international academics changing jobs.

For the fifth year in a row, the 2015 rankings have highlighted an elite group of six US and UK “super-brands” that stands head and shoulders above the rest, headed by Harvard University. Cambridge University moves into second place this year (up from 4th), Oxford University takes third (up from 5th), while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology drops to fourth (from second) and Stanford University takes 5th (from 3rd). The University of California, Berkeley, holds onto 6th place.

The rest of the top ten is made up of US institutions: Princeton University (seventh); Yale University (eighth); and the California Institute of Technology (ninth) hold their places, while Columbia University makes the world top 10 for the first time (in 10th), replacing the University of California, Los Angeles, which dropped to 13th.

Overall, the US continues to dominate, with 26 of the top 50 places, and a total of 43 of the top 100 (down from 46 last year). The US’s star performers include Columbia, rising into the top 10 from 23rd in 2011, when the survey was first carried out, and New York University, which this year makes 20th place, up from outside the top 50 in 2011.

After the US, the UK has the most top 100 representatives: 12, up from ten last year and nine in 2013. The “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London strengthened its grip on UK higher education: As well as Cambridge and Oxford rising closer to the summit, University College London moved up from 25th to 17th, the London School of Economics rose two places to 22nd and King’s College London jumped eight places from 43rd to 31st. King’s is one of the rising stars of the rankings, after moving up from the 61-70 band in 2013 (institutions ranked below the top 50 are placed in bands of ten). The saw two new entrants to the top 100: Warwick and Durham universities both entered in the 81-90 group.

Edinburgh University is Scotland’s only representative among the global super-brands, rising from 46th to 29th place.

Germany remains the third best-represented nation in the list, with six top 100 universities, led by Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, moving up from joint 46th to 35th. Other German institutions made strong progress, with both Heidelberg University (38th) and Humboldt University of Berlin (joint 41st) both making the top 50 for the first time.  Germany’s neighbour France also had a strong year. With just two top-100 universities last year, France now has five (all in Paris), led by Pantheon-Sorbonne University – Paris 1 and Paris-Sorbonne University – Paris 4, which are both in the 51-60 band. The Netherlands matches France’s five top-100 institutions (up from four last year), led by Delft University of Technology, which dropped from 42nd last year to the 51-60 band.

Russia was a star performer in this year’s rankings. It gained a new top-100 institution, with St Petersburg joining the 71-80 group, while its national flagship, Lomonosov Moscow State University jumped from the 51-60 band into 25th place – the highest place it has ever occupied.

The Nordic countries also have reason to celebrate: Sweden’s Karolinska Institute broke into the top 50, taking 45th place; Finland’s University of Helsinki joined the top 100 in the 81-90 band; and Denmark’s University of Copenhagen also joined the elite top 100, also in the 81-90 group.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia gained ground. Its leader, the University of Melbourne, host of the THE World Academic Summit in October 2015, moved up from 43rd to joint 41st. Both the University of Sydney and Australian National University moved up from the 61-70 band to the 51-60 group.

Asia’s number one performer is the University of Tokyo, slipping one place to 12th in the world. But  it was a bad result overall for Japan, as Kyoto University slipped out of the top 20, from 19th to 27th, and Osaka University fell out of the table altogether.

Meanwhile, China gained much ground. Its top institution, Tsinghua University rose ten places to 26th, overtaking Kyoto for the first time in the reputation rankings, and Peking also rose – moving to 32nd place from 41st last year. Hong Kong did not do so well – its flagship, the University of Hong Kong, slipped out of the top 50, from 43rd to the 51-60 band.

There was bad news for the Middle East, as both Israel (Technion Israel Institute of Technology) and Turkey (Middle East Technical University) both lost their only top 100 representatives.

In total, 21 countries are represented.

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