Cambridge loses number one spot in world rankings

13 September 2012

The University of Cambridge is no longer the world’s best university according to the latest QS World University Rankings, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) taking the top spot.

After two years at the head of the table, Cambridge has dropped this year to second place. The top UK institution nonetheless remains ahead of Harvard, whilst its position three places above Oxford will only reinforce the longstanding rivalry between the institutions.

The rankings show a continued success for UK institutions, as the country’s higher education system stands its ground against the United States. Four UK establishments feature in the top six – University College London (4), Oxford (5) and Imperial College, London (6), alongside Cambridge – while representing nearly a fifth of the top 100. The UK has outclassed its European counterparts with the nine leading French institutions all descending in the rankings; despite its economic powerhouse status, not one German university featured in the top fifty.

Across the pond, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the rise of MIT was cited as the result of a superior student/faculty ratio allowing for a more personalised teaching system, as well as high citation rates as its academics contribute extensively to international academic research. This, according to Head of Research at QS, Ben Sowter, “…coincides with a global shift in emphasis toward science and technology”, a trend reflected in the table by an improvement in position from last year for nine of the top ten tech-focused universities. Asian institutions are at the forefront of this technological lead, with KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), at 63, the biggest riser in the top 100 as it climbed twenty seven places from twelve months ago.

The rankings in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) table are the most extensive ever with scores accorded after consulting more than 46,000 academics and 25,000 employers, whose opinions were then balanced against data on staffing levels, research citations, international students and employability.

While the United Kingdom and United States have retained their traditional dominance of the ratings, the table shows that elite universities are more international than ever before, with universities from a record seventy two countries listed. This concerns not only the institutions themselves, however, but the students they admit; the new rankings show the top 100 universities raised recruitment by almost 10% this year, with 120,000 additional international students attending the top 500.

Such internationalism reflects an increasing preparedness amongst students to venture overseas for the best value higher education. It will be with an eager eye that the leaders of the UK’s elite institutions survey next year’s figures as they assess whether decreased funding and the tuition fee rise has given rise to an exodus of this country’s brightest students.

Louise Ashwell

Photo: Jimmy Appleton