The World University Rankings 2023 were released on Wednesday with a familiar name coming out on top but marked changes elsewhere, including the rise of Saudi institutions.
A record number of 1,799 universities were ranked in the prestigious Times Higher Education 2023 list, drawn from 104 countries around the world.
How the World University Rankings 2023 were calculated
The rankings provide a rigorous overview of a university’s quality, drawing on an analysis of 15.5 million research publications and 121 million citations of those publications, plus more than 40,000 responses to an annual academic reputation survey and hundreds of thousands of additional data points covering a university’s teaching environment, international outlook and industry links.
Institutions are measured across 13 separate performance categories, providing the most comprehensive picture of excellence among world-class research universities.
Magnificent seven for Oxford University
For the seventh year in a row, UK prime minister-making crucible Oxford University retained the top spot.
Oxford vice chancellor Dame Louise Richardson said success lay in “the extraordinary women and men of Oxford whose research and teaching continues to excite our imaginations, broaden our horizons, cure disease and explore deeply difficult problems for the betterment of society”.
“I am so proud to be associated with them,” she said.
While Oxford's primacy is practically a fait accompli, “there is no room for complacency”, said THE's chief knowledge officer Phil Baty.
“UK universities’ research income lags that of continental counterparts such as Germany and has decreased this year, and some prestigious UK universities have fallen down the rankings,” he said.
“You have to run very fast to stand still in the global rankings and losing ground can risk a vicious circle of gradually losing access to global talent and partnerships.”
Mr Baty said the UK's performance under these circumstances marked something of an overachievement. He commended Oxford's victory and Cambridge (3) and Imperial College London's (10) rise in the 2023 list “to form an extremely powerful UK golden triangle in the world top 10".
World University Rankings 2023: top 10 (last year's rank)
1. University of Oxford, UK (1)
2. Harvard University, US (2)
3. University of Cambridge, UK (5)
4. Stanford University, US (3)
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US (5)
6. California Institute of Technology, US (6)
7. Princeton University, US (7)
8. University of California, Berkeley, US (8)
9. Yale University, US (9)
10. Imperial College London, UK (12)
'Global levelling up' in higher education
While the UK has a “golden triangle” in the top 10, the US has what might be called a silver septet, given it finds nabbing the top spot elusive but still occupies seven places.
Beyond the Ivy League's elite rump, however, the picture is less auspicious, with the number of US universities represented in the top 100 continuing to fall from a peak of 43 in 2018 to 34 this year.
The slippage says less about the diminishing quality of US higher education and more about the shifting tectonic plates of global education, Mr Baty said.
“The data is very clear: we are seeing a real shift in the balance of power in the global knowledge economy, away from the traditionally dominant western world,” he said.
While the US and UK remain dominant in terms of their representation at the very top of the rankings, their relative power is waning.
“China leads a strengthening in East Asia, taking more and more of the top 200 places, and the Middle East is seeing a real renaissance in higher education, with Saudi Arabia in particular making major gains, and the UAE also strengthening.”
Mr Baty said the “levelling up” was “good news for the world”.
“A rising tide is lifting all boats: access to top-quality education is opening up globally and helping to diminish the brain drain from developing countries,” he said.
“We are also seeing more global diversity in creativity and innovation as well as more equal international collaboration.
“This should be great news for the sector as universities lead on the new ideas and breakthroughs needed to solve some of the world’s biggest shared challenges, like climate change and future pandemics.”
The full World University Rankings 2023 top 200 can be found at Times Higher Education