University challenge: The gap between the best and the rest is widening

Britain’s five top-performing universities may have shot up the global league tables, but the majority – 29 out of the 45 in the top 400 – now rank lower than they did

Share

That a record six British universities have made it into the 2013 global top 20 – two more than last year – can only be wholeheartedly welcomed.

Such a strong showing is good news for Britain’s students, of course, and also for the economy into which they will make their highly skilled way. But it is, furthermore, good news for UK plc; for all the controversy that attends education policy, in particular student fees, our universities are a world-leading industry upon which we should capitalise. The number of international students at UK institutions has jumped more than 40 per cent in five years and there is scope for more.

Full marks, then, to the consistently high-ranking four – Cambridge, UCL, Imperial College London and Oxford; and, in particular, to the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London, which move into the top 20 for the first time this year.

Behind the headlines, however, the picture is more mixed. Britain’s five top-performing universities may have shot up by more than 10 places since the financial crisis in 2007-08, but the majority – 29 out of the 45 in the top 400 – now rank lower than they did. More concerning still, when it comes to producing top-notch research, British institutions are falling behind their US rivals. Indeed, only Cambridge makes the global top 30 for research citations.

While there is much to be proud of, then, we cannot afford to be complacent. Effort must be made to ensure that the lessons learned by our most successful universities are applied elsewhere. And the controversy over £9,000-per-year tuition fees cannot be allowed to obscure the implications of long-term, lower-than-average investment in research. The tertiary education sector is one of Britain’s strengths. But it still needs work.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SharePoint Engineer - Bishop's Stortford

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron's Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering