November 04, 2004

Britain wins eight places in world list of 50 best universities

By Tony Halpin

OXFORD and Cambridge are among the world's top ten universities, according to a new global ranking published today.

They were fifth and sixth respectively in the league table of the world's 200 best universities. Harvard, which boasts an endowment of nearly $23billion (£12.7billion), was first in the list produced by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

American institutions occupied seven of the top ten places, with Oxbridge the highest-ranked outside the United States.

London's position as a centre of global educational significance was confirmed with four institutions in the top 50. The London School of Economics was 11th, Imperial College 14th, University College London 34th, and the School of Oriental and African Studies 44th.

The only European university outside Britain in the top 20 was the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, in tenth place.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, however, can lay claim to being the world's most intellectual city, as home to Harvard and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was ranked at No3.

California also scored highly, with the University of California, Berkeley, in second place, the California Institute of Technology, fourth, and Stanford seventh.

Tokyo University, in Japan, ranked at No12, was the highest-ranked institution in Asia, followed by Beijing University at No17.

Australian universities featured particularly well. Six were among the top 50 in the World University Rankings, led by the Australian National University in sixteenth place.

France, by contrast, managed just two universities in the top 50, with the École Polytechnique in 27th place and École Normale Supérieure 30th. Heidelburg University, in 47th place, was Germany's only entry, one fewer than Hong Kong.

Britain was home to 18 of Europe's top 50 universities, and six of the top ten, but not a single institution from Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece made the list. The United States had 62 of the top 200 universities, followed by Britain with 30, Germany 17 and Australia 14. Twenty-nine countries were represented in the global rankings overall.

Universities were placed in the table with the help of findings from a survey for the THES of 1,300 academics in 88 countries. They were asked to name the best institutions in the fields that they felt knowledgeable about.

The table also included data on the amount of cited research produced by faculty members as an indicator of intellectual vitality, the ratio of faculty to student numbers and a university's success in attracting foreign students and internationally renowned academics in the global market for education. The five factors were weighted and transformed against a scale that gave the top university 1,000 points and ranked everyone else as a proportion of that score.

Harvard, whose faculty members have won 40 Nobel prizes, emerged as the world's best university by a considerable distance, with second-placed Berkeley rated 120 points behind at 880.2. Oxford scored 731.8, slightly ahead of Cambridge on 725.4.

John O'Leary, Editor of the THES, said: "Leading universities increasingly define themselves in terms of international competition. By taking account of the views of academics from across five continents and using the most up-to-date statistics, our ranking gives an informed picture of the world's top universities."

A world league of the best 500 research universities, published in September by academics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, placed Cambridge third behind Harvard and Stanford. Oxford came eighth, while British universities ranked second overall behind those in the United States.

Last December a report by Richard Lambert, former Editor of the Financial Times, urged the Russell Group of Britain's leading 19 universities to establish a league table of the world's best research institutions, by which they could measure their own performances.