‘Goodbye Oxford. We’re with Imperial now.’ Cambridge remarries as Imperial beats Oxford. Again.

Catherine Maguire 16 September 2014

The 2014/2015 edition of the GS World University Rankings has listed the University of Cambridge in second place, ahead of Harvard, Yale, and the University of Oxford. 

The table, published today, saw the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  clinch the top spot for the third year in a row, and awarded Imperial College London its highest ranking yet, as it shares second place with Cambridge. America and Canada unsurprisingly dominated the upper ranks of the table, but with six institutions in the top 20, Britain is far from underrepresented. Ireland, however, is notably absent, with its highest-ranked university – Trinity College Dublin – sliding down ten places from 61st to 71st. 

Now in its tenth year, QS World University Rankings considers more than 3,000 institutions, ranking more than 800 of them, the top 400 of which are ranked individually. Results are obtained using a mixture of hard data and global surveys. 40% of the ranking is based on academic reputation, 20% on student/faculty ratio, 20% on citations per faculty, 10% on employer reputation, 5% on international student ratio, and 5% on international staff ratio. Each university is then awarded a score out of 100.

Cambridge was awarded a score of 99, scoring top marks in academic reputation and employer reputation, but slipping slightly in criteria determined by hard data, scoring 96.5% for its representation of international students, and 95.6% for its international staff ratio. Nonetheless, in individual subject tables, the University was ranked first in History and Archeology, second in Earth Sciences, Biological Sciences, English and Modern Languages, and third in Medicine, Physics and Law. Its lowest ranking of 12th place was in Sociology. 

The upper echelons of the table reveal a certain stagnancy among the leading names in global higher education. The top 10 universities remain widely unchanged, with the same heavy names present as in previous years. Furthermore, the highest-ranked non-Anglophone university came in at number 12 – Switzerland’s ETH Zurich – cementing English as the de facto dominant language of higher education. The top 200 universities are represented by 31 countries, almost half of which are English-speaking. The US leads the way with 51 institutions in the top quarter of the table, followed by the UK with 29. Germany is represented by 13 universities, the Netherlands by 11, China and Japan by ten each, and Australia by eight. 

The table will no doubt prove interesting reading for those interested in the evolution of higher education. Some will question how such a small number of elite universities have consistently come to wield an iron fist over the top ten spots. Analysis by the Times Higher Education Supplement suggests that financial assets go some way towards explaining this, adding that 20 of the country's leading universities were wealthy, with strong international links. Smaller and relatively newer institutions are far less likely to have this kind of financial support, meaning that they are less likely to penetrate the upper end of the table. 

Others will question the status and quality of higher education outside of North America and Europe, with figures already mentioned highlighting the dominance of certain countries such as the US and Britain over the field of higher education. Undoubtedly, others will question how the empirical ranking of universities is truly reflected in student satisfaction and academic experience. 



All data can be found online