“Super brand”: Cambridge ranked third in the world by reputation alone

Jenni Reid 20 March 2012

A league table compiled by the Times Higher Education (THE) supplement has ranked Cambridge University third in the world based solely on its reputation among academics, earning it the title of “super brand”.

The THE World Reputation Rankings were released last week, ranking universities based on the results of a detailed survey recording the opinion of almost 31,000 academics from around the world. This is contrary to other league tables which consider a wider range of factors, such as the employability of graduates and student satisfaction, as well as objective indicators such as research performance or funding

Cambridge University came third in the table, the same as its place last year; Oxford University was ranked sixth, also the same as 2011. However other UK institutions such as University College London, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Bristol were among a number of Russell Group universities to drop places. The London School of Economics was the only UK university to notably buck this trend, climbing eight places from last year.

The top two spots were taken by US universities, with Harvard pipping Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to the top spot.

THE describes the rankings as demonstrating “an elite Anglo-American cadre of six global university ‘super brands'” – including Cambridge – with a reputation well ahead of all those trailing behind them. Their “household name” status affords them privileges such as more funding and prestigious partners wanting to associate with them. They also become more attractive to international students. Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne claims that in the views of senior academics, a university’s status trumps even hard performance data.

10 UK universities feature in the top 100, down 2 from last year. Some commentators have attributed the drop to riotous student protests in London over the past year, which are said to have damaged the UK’s international reputation. Further factors have been named as government cuts to public funding and changes to higher education including increased tuition fees and a clampdown on international students. THE rankings editor Phil Baty has warned that aside from the ‘super-brands’ of Oxford and Cambridge, Britain’s other universities risk becoming shunned in the eyes of the world.

A spokesperson for Cambridge University said: “While university league tables tend to over-simplify the range of achievements at institutions, it is particularly pleasing to note that the excellence of the transformative research – research that changes people’s lives – carried out at Cambridge is so well regarded worldwide.”

Jenni Reid