World University Rankings: London ranked best city but experts warn of Brexit threat

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Oxford and Cambridge have been ranked as the top two universities in the world for the first time, and London named as the world’s best university city — but both are under threat from Brexit, research reveals.

A world league table shows that London has more elite universities than any other city. It now boasts 14 universities in the world’s top 500 list, beating its nearest competitor, Paris, with 10, and Boston, with eight.

Imperial College is ranked eighth best globally, University College London (UCL) is 16th, LSE is 25th, and King’s College London is 36th, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) list.

Meanwhile, for the first time in the 13-year history of the tables, the UK is home to the world’s top two universities, with Oxford holding on to the number one spot while Cambridge has jumped from fourth to second.

Cambridge University has jumped fourth to second (AFP/Getty Images)

One reason is that both had significant increases in their total institutional income, up 24 per cent and 11 per cent respectively, while the income of comparable American universities fell.

But experts said Brexit poses a risk to both London’s status as the top university city, and the UK’s future as a global leader in higher education.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL’s president and provost, told the Standard that if EU funding for universities was lost it would “threaten London as a world leader in higher education and as a research engine that helps drive the economy”.

Oxford University has taken number one position (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Phil Baty, a director at THE, said Brexit poses a “huge risk to the success of UK universities”. He said almost a quarter of research funding from competitive grants to the University of Cambridge comes from the EU, while the proportion at Oxford is a fifth. 

The world university rankings top ten

1. University of Oxford

2. University of Cambridge

= 3. California Institute of Technology

= 3. Stanford University

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6. Harvard University

7. Princeton

8. Imperial College London

9. University of Chicago

= 10. ETH Zurich = Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

= 10. University of Pennysylvania

He added that universities were already starting to suffer from the Brexit vote, with the number of EU applicants declining by five per cent since last year. 

Mr Baty added: “The rankings highlight what is at stake if we cannot agree a sustainable way to properly fund our universities, we fail to welcome global students, and if the research funding and academic talent that comes to us from the European Union is cut off.”

The rankings, published today, also suggest that the gap between the UK’s elite institutions and other universities is widening. While universities in the “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London have remained steady in the rankings, other UK universities, such as Warwick and St Andrews, have dropped down the table.

Professor Arthur said: “At UCL more than 21 per cent of our academics are from the EU and a further 14 per cent are from other non-EU nations. We draw students from more than 150 countries, such is the lure of the intellectual and cultural powerhouse that is London.

“These EU staff and students need more reassurance that freedom of movement for people of their calibre will continue after Brexit without bureaucratic visa restrictions.”

Imperial College London was ranked eighth (John Li/Getty Images)

Professor Arthur added that 14 per cent of UCL’s research income comes from the EU. He said: “There are leading academics at UCL and in the UK today who joined as young EU researchers or post-docs. They are now responsible for work that pushes back the boundaries of knowledge, benefits us all and inspires the next generation.”

Other London universities named in the global top 500 were Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway, St George’s, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Brunel, City, Royal Veterinary College, Middlesex University and Soas.

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