UK dominates European university rankings as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London take the lead

Germany, however, looks set to challenge UK's dominance as it continues to offer more English-taught degrees and no tuition fees

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Thursday 10 March 2016 10:22 GMT
The University of Oxford, pictured, has been named as the top institution on the continent
The University of Oxford, pictured, has been named as the top institution on the continent (Alamy)

The UK has come out on top for having the best universities in Europe, despite the rising cost of higher education in the country.

According to Times Higher Education’s (THE) European University Rankings 2016, the UK has taken nearly a quarter of all places - the most of any country on the continent - with a total of 46 institutions out of 200, including seven in the top ten, and 17 in the top 50.

Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College London have charged on ahead to make up the top three universities in Europe. University College London and Edinburgh have also featured in the top ten.

Despite a strong performance from the UK, however, Germany - with 36 institutions in the top 200 - is challenging its dominance. Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU Munich) is the country’s most highly-ranked university in tenth place, while almost a third (11 institutions) are in the top 50.

The UK’s success has been reflected in its position in THE’s World University Rankings 2015 where it boasted 78 institutions in the top 800 and 34 in the top 200, making it second only to the US for the number of world-class universities featured in the list.

Top 10 universities in Europe:

  1. University of Oxford (UK)
  2. University of Cambridge (UK)
  3. Imperial College London (UK)
  4. ETH Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland)
  5. University College London (UK)
  6. London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)
  7. University of Edinburgh (UK)
  8. King’s College London (UK)
  9. Karolinska Institute (Sweden)
  10. LMU Munich (Germany)

Having analysed 13 key performance indicators, the rankings claim to be the only table to examine all the core missions of the modern global university: research, teaching, knowledge transfer, and international activity.

Editor of the rankings, Phil Baty, described how international students are “hugely important” to the health of the UK higher education system, as well as to the wider economy. He said: “They spend about £4.5 billion on tuition fees and accommodation alone, but they also add much to the overall student experience by supporting a rich, multicultural campus life for all students.”

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However, he added that this “vital lifeline” is increasingly at risk because, for the first time this year, the UK saw international student numbers fall, with “significant drops” from some countries.

Mr Baty continued: “Not only are our restrictive immigration policies and the noisy rhetoric surrounding the issue leading many students to perceive they are not welcome in the UK, we are also seeing the increasing popularity of European universities which are often just as highly ranked as their UK competitors but also much, much cheaper to study with.

“These powerful universities on the continent are actively challenging UK market share: delivering more and more degree courses fully in English to attract students who, in the past, would only have chosen the UK, US, or Australia.”

Mr Baty said that, at the last count, the top universities in the Netherlands and Germany were offering around 2,000 English-taught degree programmes between them.

Elsewhere in Europe, Scandinavian countries have performed well with Sweden and Finland coming out strongly relative to their population size with 11 and six institutions respectively in the top 200.

Other strong performers relative to population size include Denmark (six universities), the Republic of Ireland (six) and Switzerland (nine), whose top ranked institution ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich is in fourth place.

The east and south of Europe, however, have generally scored poorly in the rankings. Countries in these regions either perform relatively weakly (Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal with only one institution each in the group 171-200), or do not appear at all in the top 200 (Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and the whole of the former Yugoslavia).

Russia has also “surprisingly underperformed,” say the rankings, with just five institutions in the top 200, making it the lowest-ranked country relative to its population.

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