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Britain surpassed for first time as second most represented nation in university rankings

'Maintaining world class excellence amid cuts and creeping isolationism is simply unsustainable'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 26 September 2018 15:54 BST
Oxford University has been crowned the best university in the world
Oxford University has been crowned the best university in the world (Getty)

Britain has been surpassed for the first time as the second most represented nation in global university rankings – but Oxford and Cambridge have nonetheless retained the top two positions.

The pair have once again topped the World University Rankings, with Oxford in first place and Cambridge in second. But the national picture shows stagnation and modest decline.

Intensified global competition has seen the reputation of UK universities dip and experts are warning that Brexit could pose a further risk to Britain’s status and research capabilities.

The Times Higher Education (THE) rankings – which assess teaching, research and international outlook – show that Asia’s ascent continues while UK entrants remain static or have declined.

The University of Dundee and Royal Holloway have slipped out of the global 200 and Tsinghua University in China has overtaken the UK’s LSE and the University of Edinburgh.

The UK, which has 98 institutions in the full list of more than 1,250 universities, is no longer the second most represented nation in the rankings. Japan has overtaken it this year, claiming 103 positions.

The US still leads the way with 172 institutions in the annual global league table. California’s Stanford University is third on the list, maintaining its position from last year.

Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE global rankings, told The Independent: “The UK dip in reputation is significant – but we can only speculate as to why. While the UK has grappled with Brexit and a more isolationist direction, in contrast we’ve seen a marked increase in global engagement from Japan, and others, as more and more universities clamour to be visible and collaborative on the international stage.”

Mr Baty warned that the risk to the UK’s reputation and research capabilities from Brexit was “very real”.

He said: “Maintaining world class excellence amid cuts and creeping isolationism is simply unsustainable – especially amid intensifying global competition, with many emerging nations currently placing their own universities at the heart of national economic growth strategies.”

He added: “The groundbreaking work of UK universities mustn’t be undermined by complacency and politicking. To ensure they continue to thrive on the global stage, positive immigration and investment policies are crucial. They must be free to attract and retain the very best international talent and international students post-Brexit, and they must be protected from cuts, the flow of research funding and academic talent mustn’t be impacted.”

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “What is clear from all the various international rankings is that the UK continues to have one of the strongest university sectors in the world. This is based on our well-deserved international reputation for high quality teaching, learning and research, delivered by talented and dedicated staff.”

He added: “But we know that other countries are seeing the benefits of higher education and are investing heavily in developing their universities. If the UK is to maintain its leading position, we must match this investment, and ensure that the UK projects a more open and welcoming message for talented international staff and students.

“This is more important than ever as Brexit negotiations near their end and the UK looks to enhance its place in the world.”

Universities minister Sam Gyimah said: “The 2019 Times Higher Education world rankings show that, with three universities in the top 10 and 11 in the top 100, the UK continues to be a world-leading destination for study and research. But as the list shows, international standards are improving, so it is more important than ever for our universities to remain competitive.”

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings: Top 10 in UK

“=” is used to denote a joint place with an international university

University 2019 2018

University of Oxford

1 1

University of Cambridge

2 2

Imperial College London

9 8

University College London

14 16

London School of Economics and Political Science

26 =25

University of Edinburgh

29 =27

King’s College London

38 36

University of Manchester

57 =54

University of Bristol 

78 76

University of Warwick 

=79 91

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