Oxbridge shows enduring appeal as universities top Times Higher Education's global rankings

Khalifa University impresses in Middle East after huge investment

St. John's College, Oxford, England. Getty Images
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The enduring appeal of Oxbridge has once again been confirmed, with the two prestigious British institutions topping this year’s world university rankings.

Oxford took first place for the second year running in the Times Higher Education’s list of top 1,000 global universities, joined by its rival Cambridge in second place. It is the highest that Cambridge has ever ranked and a steady improvement on fourth place last year.

Across the pond, there was less to celebrate, as Cambridge’s ascent forced US institutions to drop out of the top two positions for the first time. California Institute of Technology dropped to third position, a ranking it now shares with fellow west coast university, Stanford. MIT, Harvard and Princeton took the fifth, sixth and seventh slots respectively, unchanged from 2016.

Germany (20), The Netherlands (13) and Australia (eight) were well represented in the top 200, but it is ascendancy of Chinese universities that continues to impress the most. Peking and Tsinghua climbed into the top 30 for the first time, beating big names in Europe and the US. Almost all Chinese universities improved, signalling that the country’s commitment to investment has bolstered results year-on-year.

In the Middle East, the standout performer was Khalifa University, which shot into the 301-350 band having been unranked in last year’s list. UAE University and the American University of Sharjah both held onto their positions from last year, while the University of Sharjah also made it into the top 1,000 for the first time.

This is the fourteenth edition of the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, which is considered the definitive list of the top 1,000 institutions from 77 countries.

Phil Baty, Editorial Director of Global Rankings at Times Higher Education, hailed Cambridge’s rise to second place as a “fantastic achievement” and said that other advances among European institutions show the continued strength of the region.

However, he warned that Europe would come under increasing pressure amid a surge in global competition, while British universities could struggle in future due to the country’s impending departure from the European Union.

“There are signs that Asia is starting to threaten the position of some of Europe’s leading institutions, while Brexit poses a huge risk to the success of UK universities in the future,” he said.

“Europe will need to work hard to ensure it can sustain its performance in future years.”

The waning dominance of North American universities was also evident, with Mr Baty describing its fall from the top two spots as a “real blow to the country’s higher education sector”.

Two-fifths of the US institutions in the top 200 have dropped places in this year’s list. Canada fared slightly better, but both nations are clearly feeling the threat from rising Asian stars. For example, the University of Hong Kong overtook McGill University and the National University of Singapore is now on a par with the University of Toronto and has overtaken Carnegie Mellon.

Mr Baty warned that the Trump administration is casting a cloud over research funding for US universities, while the country’s anti-immigration policies could put further pressure on their place in the rankings.

“Funding concerns for America’s public universities, uncertainty around future levels of research income and anti-immigration policies means that the US’ position may decline further in future years,” he said.

East Asia was the standout region in this year’s rankings. The ascent of Chinese universities was particularly impressive, with Peking reaching its highest position at joint 27, making it equal to both the University of Edinburgh and New York University. Meanwhile, Tsinghua also overtook the University of Melbourne, Georgia Institute of Technology and LMU Munich.

Mr Baty said: “The rise of China in this year’s table is remarkable and demonstrates the way the global higher education landscape is changing.

“With two top-30 representatives for the first time in the 14-year history of the rankings, China’s leading universities are truly now part of the global elite and overtaking prestigious universities in the US, UK and Europe.”