Oxford and Cambridge named the top 2 universities in the world -- but a Brexit threat looms

20 kings college view from the rive cam cambridge englandWikipedia/Andrew DunnKing’s College, Cambridge

Oxford and Cambridge have been named the top two universities in the world for the first time in the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking, but other UK universities have slipped down the table.

Oxford is in first place for the second year in a row, while Cambridge has risen from fourth to second place, shifting the California Institute of Technology into joint third with Stanford.

The THE report says Cambridge’s jump is thanks to improved research income and the quality of research produced this year. Caltech and Stanford both suffered from reduced income.

The THE ranking takes into account quality of teaching, research, the number of academic citations, international reach, and “industry income,” or the extent of the university’s external and non-academic collaborations.

Despite Oxford and Cambridge’s strong performance, there are concerns that Brexit could pose a threat to UK universities’ international standing, both in terms of funding and appeal.

“There’s no doubt that continental Europe is genuinely in a position to capitalise on potential change with Brexit,” Phil Baty, editorial director of the THE ranking, told the Financial Times.

Many UK universities receive substantial amounts of funding from the European Union — Cambridge receives about a quarter of its total research funding from the EU, while Oxford receives about a fifth. Research by the Chartered Association of Business Schools earlier this year also found that 7% of its 120 members had lost EU staff members since the referendum.

Baty suggested Brexit may also have a part to play in the growing gap between the top UK universities and those outside London and the South East, saying that London is still perceived as welcoming and open, while the rest of the UK is beginning to appear less so.

Although London-based universities generally retained strong positions in the ranking, institutions outside the South East fared less well: St. Andrews and the Liverpool were among those UK universities that fell most places, dropping 33 and 19 places respectively.

Sir Anton Muscatelli, vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow — which saw one of the biggest rises, from 88th to joint 80th — highlighted the growing challenge posed by Asian countries, many of which are investing a greater percentage of GDP into universities than the UK. For the first time, there are now three Asian universities in the THE’s top 30.

Adding to UK universities’ worries, many are facing criticism over vice-chancellor pay, rising student debt levels and standards of teaching. A new measurement for teaching excellence, commissioned by the government, revealed earlier this year that many of the UK’s top “Russell Group” universities had failed to score the top “gold” rating.

According to the THE, the top ten universities are all in either the UK or the US, apart from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, in Switzerland. In total, 31 UK universities make the top 200.

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