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QS rankings: Brexit uncertainty dents UK position

Uncertainty over the HE funding and consequences of Brexit have slightly dented the UK’s position in this year’s QS World University Rankings, according to its authors. The 2016 league table nevertheless reprises the familiar top-20 dominance of US and UK universities, marking MIT’s fifth year in the top spot, while investment in research means Asian institutions are climbing the lower rungs of the rankings.

The University of Cambridge fell from joint third place to fourth in this year's QS World University Rankings. Photo: Flickr/Douglas Pfeiffer Cardoso.

“Uncertainty over research funding and immigration rules seem to be damaging the reputation of the UK’s HE sector"

Nearly three-quarters of the UK’s top 400 universities have seen a drop in both academic and employer reputation this year, and 58% have seen a fall in international faculty numbers.

“Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding are rising”

Though it took place after the rankings were compiled, uncertainty caused by the UK’s EU referendum may have contributed to the slip, according to Ben Sowter, head of research at QS.

“Uncertainty over research funding, immigration rules, and the ability to hire and retain the top young talent from around the world seems to be damaging the reputation of the UK’s higher education sector,” he said.

In the top 10, the University of Cambridge has been bumped from joint third place to fourth and Imperial College London from eighth to ninth. The University of Oxford and UCL have remained steady in sixth and seventh place.

After last year’s shakeup, which saw the unexpected rise up the rankings of Singapore’s two national universities, there are few notable changes to the top 20, although Harvard has relinquished second position to Stanford.

Once again, ETH Zurich is the only institution outside of the US and UK to make the top 10, falling one spot to ninth.

Meanwhile, two universities have edged back into the top 20 after a year’s absence. The University of Edinburgh and Columbia University have both risen two places to reach 19th and 20th respectively, but have nevertheless lost ground since their previous highs of 17th and 14th.

Lower down the table, NUS remains the top-ranked Asian institution at 12th, followed by NTU at 13th.

China now has three universities in the top 50: Tsinghua has reached 24th position, while Peking University is up two to 29th, and Fudan University has climbed by eight to 43rd place.

And all but one of Hong Kong’s seven featured institutions have moved up this year, with three featuring in the top 50; and South Korea has gained ground, latter claiming 16 of the top 500 universities, up from 13 last year.

“This year’s rankings imply that levels of investment are determining who progresses and who regresses,” Sowter said.

“Institutions in countries that provide high levels of targeted funding, whether from endowments or from the public purse, are rising. On the other hand, some Western European nations making or proposing cuts to public research spending are losing ground to their US and Asian counterparts.”

QS Top 20 universities 2016

2016 2015
 1  1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
 2  3= Stanford University US
 3  2 Harvard University US
 4  3= University of Cambridge UK
 5  5 California Institute of Technology US
 6  6 Oxford University UK
 7  7 University College London UK
 8  9 ETH Zurich Switzerland
 9  8 Imperial College London UK
 10  10 University of Chicago US
 11  11 Princeton University US
 12  12 National University of Singapore Singapore
 13  13 Nanyang Technical University Singapore
 14  14 EPFL Switzerland
 15  15 Yale University US
 16  17 Cornell University US
 17  16 Johns Hopkins University US
 18  18 University of Pennsylvania US
 19  21 University of Edinburgh UK
 20  22 Columbia University US


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