The latest international university league table compiled by data and research group QS downgrades two-thirds of the 84 UK universities ranked in the top 1,000, following similar declines in 2016 and 2017.
While Oxford was one of the few bright spots – rising from fifth to fourth overall – its ancient rival Cambridge slipped from sixth to seventh, its lowest-ever position, as a result of steadily declining research performance, as measured by citations per member of academic staff. Cambridge University, which for many years was ranked the best in the world and for a decade held a place in the top three, has now dropped down to fifth place, according to the QS World University Rankings.
Overall, 51 of the UK’s 76 institutions have slipped down in the rankings since last year. The majority of Russell Group members, which represents 24 of the UK’s most selective universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, with 16 dropping down in the rankings. Under the current fees system, any English university wishing to charge tuition fees of over around £6,000 must have an access agreement approved by Offa. This sets out what the university intends to do to recruit and retain youngsters who would not normally study for a degree. Earlier this year, the higher education tsar warned that top universities must make more effort to accept poor students.
“For decades, UK higher education has been one of the country’s finest exports to the world. The sector has produced outstanding research, fostered world-class teaching, forged transformational links to industry and welcomed millions of talented young people,”
Dr Joanna Williams, a senior lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent, said: “Universities are casting the net a lot wider and reaching out to more socially diverse groups, which is good. “But it means you can’t assume that students come in with a body of knowledge and you have to spend a certain amount of time bringing them up to standard”. Dr Williams added that universities are giving lower A-level offers – not just to disadvantaged students but to all students – in order to fill places.
The compilers say the main problems for the UK are an average drop of 41 places in ratings from 44,000 employers around the world and a drop of 34 places in the number of students per staff member. Since the Brexit referendum, other EU universities have narrowed their gap with the UK by 28%. This is thanks to a slight improvement in their research performance, combined with a decline in UK performance. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) retained the top spot for the eighth year, ahead of Stanford University in second and Harvard University in third, whose ranks remained unchanged. However, their success runs counter to the US’s worst-ever overall performance, with just 16% of institutions improving their rank. Just 12 UK universities improved their position, including Oxford and UCL, which claimed eighth place. The other UK universities in the top 20 were Imperial (nine) and Edinburgh (20), both ranked lower than last year.
The top ten universities according to QS World University Rankings 2018
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
2 Stanford University
3 Harvard University
4 California Institute of Technology
5 University of Cambridge
6 University of Oxford
7 University College London
8 Imperial College London
9 University of Chicago
10 Eth Zurich (Swiss Federal Institution of Technology)