Nearly three quarters of British universities fall in global rankings

An increasingly competitive international market, Brexit and fewer research citations contributed to fall, says research

Matt Mathers
Wednesday 10 June 2020 14:00 BST
Oxford University fell from fourth to fifth place in the rankings
Oxford University fell from fourth to fifth place in the rankings (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Just under three quarters of British universities – including top institutions such as Oxford and University College London (UCL) – have seen their rankings slump in an international league table.

A total of 62 out of 84 UK institutions saw their world ranking downgraded for the fourth consecutive year, according to a 2021 university guide compiled by publishing firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

Oxford University slipped from fourth to fifth place, while UCL fell to number 10 – two places down from its 2020 standing, new data released on Wednesday shows.

Imperial College London moved up one spot from ninth to eighth, making it the only UK university in the top 20 places to improve its position from 2020.

Cambridge and Edinburgh universities held onto their positions at seventh and 20th respectively.

Ben Sowler, director of research at QS, attributed the falls to poorer teaching and declining research. Top academics and students from Europe and around the world may no longer see Britain as the attractive to place to study it once was as a result of Brexit, he added.

“Numerous sources – from Ucas to the Higher Education Policy Institute – have drawn the same connection between Brexit and lower British appeal among the global international student community,” said Mr Sowler.

More than half of UK universities ranked in the table (66) saw a drop in their staff to student ratio, while 59 had fewer research citations. International students enrolling on courses had fallen at 51 universities, according to the data.

Britain’s poorer performance in the rankings also “reflect the increasing competitiveness of the global higher education landscape,” Sowler added. More investment in teaching would help the UK institutions “regain lost ground”.

Mr Sowler said: “So, too, would concerted efforts to ensure that Britain continues to remain an attractive place for talented academics and students to study in the future, and a national desire to continue collaborating with our European and global partners on transformative research projects.”

Other universities in North America and Europe had also fallen in the rankings due to increasing investment in higher education around the world, particularly in Asia, Sowler added.

Universities across the UK are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and falling numbers of international students, who typically pay much higher fees than UK students and are therefore a vital source of income at many institutions.

There are fears that some universities could run out of money without government intervention to plug funding shortfalls.

A British Council report released earlier this week estimated that there could be up to 111,000 fewer UK and 121,000 fewer international first-year students attending UK universities this year.

The report estimated there could be 14,000 fewer new enrolments from East Asia alone in the upcoming academic year when compared with 2019/20.

It came after an analysis by the London School of Economics for the University and College Union in April warned that falling international student numbers could result in a £2.5bn funding black hole.

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