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

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Party chairman Grant Shapps at the Tory conference  

Nastiness thrives in Tory Britain but voters won’t put up with it any more

Andreas Whittam Smith
This year marks the centenary of the First World War  

Muslims remember too: The poppy hijab will combat hatred on both sides

Sughra Ahmed
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain