The world's leading thinkers regard the UK as having better universities than any other country apart from the US, a league table shows. A total of 13,388
highly respected academics in 131 countries were asked to rate the world's universities according to how good they thought their research and teaching were. The results, published by Times Higher Education magazine, reveal that UK universities are second only to those in the US when it comes to reputation. While the US has 45 institutions in the top 100, the UK has 12. Japan came third with five universities in the top 100. Harvard was placed first, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge University came third, Oxford sixth and Imperial College London 11th. University College London (UCL) took 19th place. Only academics who had published more than 50 research papers and had worked in universities for more than 16 years were asked to take part in the survey. There are several other league tables of the world's universities, but this one is the first to go purely on reputation. Universities are likely to use these rankings, among others, to judge how much they should charge in tuition fees. The reputation of UK universities overseas is important to the economy because international students spend more than £5bn each year through tuition fees and off-campus expenditure. Many UK universities are heavily dependent on overseas students.
The tables show that after the US, UK and Japan, the countries with the most universities in the top 100 are Canada, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Some UK universities fare substantially better when they are rated on reputation alone, rather than a mix of measurements. The Times Higher also publishes a league table which rates the world's top 200 universities based on 13 measurements, including how much an institution makes from innovation and how many times a university's academics are cited in international journals. When these measurements are added to the mix, some universities are ranked several places below the position they achieve when rated on reputation alone. Cambridge comes third when it is rated on reputation alone, but sixth when other factors are taken into account. UCL and the London School of Economics come 19th and 37th on reputation alone, compared with 22nd and 86th respectively when other factors are taken into account.
UK universities performed worse in last year's Times Higher rankings than they did the year before. In this year's rankings, Cambridge came sixth, joint with Oxford, and Imperial came ninth. The year before, Cambridge had come second, UCL fourth and Oxford joint fifth. Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents large research-intensive universities, said that, unlike the UK, our competitors were "pumping billions" into their higher education institutions. "It is more important than ever that the new fee regime allows our universities to maintain their well-deserved global reputation for excellence," she said. Meanwhile, figures show the number of students taking British degrees overseas has overtaken the number of foreign students at UK universities. An analysis of the latest official figures by the British Council shows there were 340,000 students living outside the EU and studying for a UK degree or a higher education qualification last year. Many of these would have been enrolled at the overseas campuses of UK universities.
In the same year, 309,000 students from outside the EU were based at universities in the UK. The British Council said the number of students living overseas who were studying for British degrees had grown by at least 70% in the last decade.