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23rd Sep 2018

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University rankings reveal two-speed Europe

  • Oxford may well be celebrating, but many other European institutions are suffering in the rankings. (Photo: Martin Griffiths)

The EU is breaking into a two-speed continent as far as universities are concerned, the latest global rankings suggest.

Institutions from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands are leaving behind most of the rest of the EU, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) World University rankings.

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The University of Oxford, in the UK, has achieved the ultimate prize – it has been named as the world's best university, displacing American institutions for the first time since the THE began the rankings 13 years ago.

Some 32 British universities made the top 200, described by the THE as the elite group. Three reached the top 10 – Oxford, the University of Cambridge (4) and Imperial College London (8).

The only other European institution in the top 10 was ETH Zurich (9). The rest of the top 10 were from the US.

Germany's top university, LMU Munich, came in at 30, but overall German institutions performed strongly, with 22 ranked in the top 200.

And the Netherlands supplied 13 of the top 200, with the Delft University of Technology (59) ranking most highly.

These three nations performed similarly in last year's rankings.

No guarantee for Europe

However, although Europe was still the most successful continent, the THE suggested that it was falling back slightly.

“Overall six European institutions have fallen out of the top 200, with 99 now making this cohort,” said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings.

He highlighted France as being particularly weak, with one-third of France's 27 institutions falling down the rankings.

Just three French institutions now make the top 200 – Ecole Normale Superieure (66), Ecole Polytechnique (116) and Pierre and Marie Curie University (121) – all of which have fallen compared with last year.

Other surprises included the University of Copenhagen, which plummeted from 82 last year to 120 this year, and the University of Helsinki, which tumbled from 76 to 91.

Baty suggested the Nordic institutions were feeling the effects of budget cuts.

He also painted a damning picture for Central and Eastern Europe, saying the region provided just one university in the top 600, down from six last year, and three of Romania’s four universities dropped significantly.

“Europe’s success in the ranking cannot be guaranteed in the long-term while more of Asia’s leading universities soar to join the world elite,” Baty concluded.

The Americans always win

The THE rankings, one of three major global studies, are mainly aimed at the institutions and public bodies that buy their products.

THE looks at 13 different factors, the main one being quality of teaching.

Much of the data comes from surveys filled in by more than 10,000 academics, who are asked to rate the teaching at the institutions they are familiar with.

The other main factors are the volume and quality of research at a university.

Another index, the QS ranking, is aimed much more at students and places a much greater emphasis on the reputation of an institution among academics and employers.

In that survey, Cambridge beat Oxford, Germany did not do as well, and France performed much more strongly.

A third survey, the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, focuses on research funding and outcomes.

Cambridge again beat Oxford on the Shanghai rankings, and France's top two institutions are ahead of anything Germany has to offer.

One thing that all the surveys have in common, though, is that US institutions are completely dominant.

Education inequalities remain high in EU

Less people leave school prematurely, but socio-economic status, immigrant background and gender are still factors of underachievement, a commission report says.

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