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Oxford and Cambridge bag top spots in 2018 World University Rankings

US universities continue to dominate the top 200, but they and other western institutions face challenges from within and from Asia, while Indian schools slip further down the rankings
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   06-09-2017
The University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge (photo by foshie, used under CC license)

For the first time, the top two spots in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings are occupied by UK universities. In the 2018 rankings, released yesterday, the University of Oxford remains in the top spot for the second year in a row, while the University of Cambridge has risen to second place, from the fourth rank last year. As a result, the California Institute of Technology, which was number one from 2012 and 2016, and number two last year, is now tied with Stanford for third place.

THE World University Rankings 2018
2018 rank 2017 rank University Country
1 1 University of Oxford UK
2 4 University of Cambridge UK
3 2 Caltech US
3 Stanford University US
5 5 MIT US
6 6 Harvard University US
7 7 Princeton University US
8 8 Imperial College London UK
9 10 University of Chicago US
10 9 ETH Zurich Switzerland
13 University of Pennsylvania US
Source: Times Higher Education

Explaining the rise of Cambridge, THE noted that its research income and research quality improved this year, while Caltech and Stanford were hurt by drops to their PhD-to-bachelor’s ratios. It noted that Caltech saw a more modest increase in research income per academic staff member than the other three institutions.

Caltech’s and Stanford’s institutional income also dropped by 23% and 24%, respectively, while Cambridge and Oxford each received a boost in revenue (by 11% and 24% respectively), the THE report noted.

THE quoted Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, as saying, “To be judged the best university in the world for the second successive year, against a backdrop in which Britain’s role in the world is uncertain and the place of universities in society open to question, will be a great source of pride for everyone at Oxford, and, I hope, for the whole country.” The report added that her comments underscore the shadow of Brexit over the global standing of the UK’s best universities.

A view of the Caltech campus
A view of the Caltech campus (photo by Madeleine Ball, used under CC license)

Western institutions face uncertainties
The report notes that nearly one-fourth of Cambridge’s research funding from competitive grants come from the European Union, while the figure for Oxford is about one-fifth.

The report notes that the standing of the US and Australia in future years could be threatened. Fifty-nine of the 62 US institutions in the top 200 have seen declines in research income per academic staff member, and there are uncertainties about future federal research support from the Trump administration. The THE report also notes that 29 of the universities in this elite group have dropped ranks.

Australia has maintained a steady performance, the report notes, but its position may suffer in future if the government acts on plans to cut funding by 2.5%.

Peking University
Peking University (photo by LWYang, used under CC license)

Asian universities on the rise
US, Australian and European universities face increasing competition from Asian institutions, the THE report notes. There are now three Asian universities in the top 30. Peking University has risen two places to joint 27th, which puts it on par with New York University and the University of Edinburgh, and ahead of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Tsinghua University is up five spots in 30th position, overtaking the University of Melbourne, Georgia Institute of Technology, LMU Munich, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Asia’s top university, the National University of Singapore, is up two spots to tie for 22nd place, level with the University of Toronto and outranking Carnegie Mellon University.

The Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (photo by Sissssou, used under CC license)

Indian universities fare poorly
Among Indian universities, the highest placed again is the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, but it has slipped from the 201-250 band to the 251-300 band. (After the first 200 ranks, THE places universities in bands, rather than giving each one an individual rank).

Top Indian universities in 2018 rankings
2018 rank 2017 rank University
251-300 201-250 IISc Bangalore
351-400 351-400 IIT Bombay
501-600 401-500 IIT Delhi
501-600 401-500 IIT Kanpur
501-600 501-600 IIT Kharagpur
501-600 501-600 IIT Roorkee
Source: Times Higher Education
After the 200th rank, THE places schools in bands

A report in Mint quotes Phil Baty, Editorial Director of the THE global rankings, as saying,“It is disappointing that India has declined…amid increasing global competition. As leading universities in other Asian territories such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore are consistently rising up the rankings, in part thanks to high and sustained levels of funding, India’s flagship, the Indian Institute of Science, moves further away from the elite top 200.”

Indian universities tend to score poorly on internationalization, which measures a university’s capacity to attract students and staff from other countries. This could change, however, as the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal last month to establish 20 world-class institutions. These could attract more international students and raise India’s profile as an education destination.

The THE rankings cover 1,000 institutions in 77 countries. The US continues to dominate, with the most universities in the top 200. The full rankings can be found here.

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