Posted on September 9, 2017
A cyclist is silhouetted in front of Balliol College — one of the oldest constituent colleges of Oxford University in Oxford, England. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Just a year after losing the top spot in world university rankings for the first time, the U.S. slips again, with its top rated college falling behind both Oxford and Cambridge.
But the U.K.’s success could be short-lived, as Brexit threatens to take a toll on the research income enjoyed by its leading higher education institutions, putting their future as world-leaders in jeopardy.
Oxford this year held onto the top spot it gained for the first time last year, in global rankings published today by industry magazine Times Higher Education.
Its triumph last time around was also the first time a non-U.S. university had claimed the number one position in the 13-year history of the rankings.
But this year the number two slot was taken by Oxford’s historic rival, Cambridge, up from fourth in last year’s rankings, meaning for the first time the U.S. does not occupy either of the first two places.
Instead, two U.S. universities are ranked joint third: California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, last year’s second and third-placed institutions.
One reason behind the Oxbridge one-two is a rise in their institutional income, up by 24% at Oxford and 11% at Cambridge, while income fell by 23% at Caltech and 24% at Stanford.
But about a quarter of research funding at Cambridge, and a fifth at Oxford, comes from the E.U., a well that may start to dry up post-Brexit.
U.K. universities have already been hit by a 5% fall in applications from E.U. students for undergraduate courses this year, representing a significant loss in both income and expertise.
It is clear from the data used to compile the rankings that the U.K. has some of the world’s best universities and strongest higher education systems, according to Phil Baty, editorial director of global rankings for Times Higher Education.
‘The data shows U.K. universities are consistently producing ground-breaking new research which is driving innovation, they are attracting international student and academic talent and are producing a world-class teaching environment,’ he added.
‘They are a huge national asset, and one that the country can ill afford to undermine at a time when its place in the global order is under intense scrutiny.’
This year’s top 10, with last year’s position in brackets, are:
1. (1) University of Oxford (U.K.)
2. (4) University of Cambridge (U.K.)
=3 (2) California Institute of Technology (U.S.)
=3 (3) Stanford University (U.S.)
5. (5) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (U.S.)
6. (6) Harvard University (U.S.)
7. (7) Princeton University (U.S.)
8. (8) Imperial College London (U.K)
9.(=10) University of Chicago (U.S.)
=10 (9) ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland)
=10 (13) University of Pennsylvania (U.S.)
Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018
This year’s rankings also show the continued rise of the Far East. The National University of Singapore is now the top-ranked institution outside of Europe and the U.S., at joint 22nd, and China’s two leading institutions, Peking and Tsinghua universities, are now both higher than the highest-placed universities in Australia and Germany, Melbourne University and LMU Munich respectively.
The rankings are based on 13 performance indicators across five areas: teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income, and rate 1,000 universities in 77 countries.
But, according to some critics, these metrics do not capture everything that makes a university successful, and miss out what may well be the most important one of all: student employability.
‘Identifying what matters most to students — as well as businesses — would help the HE sector address legitimate concerns about student satisfaction, value for money and skills shortages,’ according to Ian Myson, director of higher education partnerships at the Chartered Management Institute.
He said Times Higher Education should learn from a recent assessment of teaching quality at U.K. universities to include the things that really matter.