Two UK universities in global top three – Survey

University academics around the world have given a boost to the reputations of the UK’s two leading universities, placing them second and third behind Harvard in a global 'beauty contest'.

The universities of Cambridge and Oxford move up from fourth and fifth places respectively in this year’s Times Higher Education, or THE, World Reputation Rankings.

The results are based on a global invitation-only opinion poll carried out in partnership with academic publisher Elsevier. It yielded 10,507 responses from published senior academics who on average had worked in higher education for 15 years.

The poll asks academics to nominate no more than 10 of the best institutions in their narrow field of expertise, based on their experience and knowledge, making it a rigorous global measure of academic prestige. It will form part of the THE’s World University Rankings when they are published later this year.

THE insists the reputation ranking has become a “widely referenced global index of university prestige”, helping institutions to “attract top student and academic talent as well as investment, research partners and donations”.

The two English universities swap places with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively, while the University of California, Berkeley remains unchanged in sixth place. All the remaining top ten universities are in the US and, overall, the US continues to dominate, with 26 of the top 50 places and 43 of the top 100.

After the US, the UK has the largest number of universities in the top 100 representatives (12, up from 10 last year). Among dramatic risers are University College London (up eight places to 17th) and King’s College London, also up eight places to 31st, when as recently as 2013 it languished in the 61-70 band.

Three other UK universities enter the rankings this year – the universities of Durham, Warwick and Bristol. The University of Edinburgh is Scotland’s only representative but it does well, jumping from joint 46th to 29th.

Reputations are strong in mainland Europe too, with Germany (six top 100 universities) the third-strongest nation in reputation terms. France has also had a good year with five top 100 universities this year – all in Paris – compared to two in 2014.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has five representatives overall, matching France and the Netherlands. But the region’s leading performer is the University of Tokyo in 12th position, although it drops a place, with other Japanese universities also declining.

China’s top institution, Tsinghua University, has risen 10 places to 26th, overtaking Kyoto University for the first time in the rankings. Peking University also performs well, moving up nine places to 32nd. But universities in Hong Kong are moving in the other direction, with its three universities falling – the University of Hong Kong drops out of the top 50.

South Korea also performs less well but Singapore’s universities generally hold their ground.

South and Central America also have isolated rising stars – Brazil’s University of São Paulo has risen from the 81-90 group to the 51-60 band, while Mexico makes its first appearance in the exclusive global top 100, with the National Autonomous University of Mexico entering the 71-80 band.

In total, 21 countries are represented.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, says:

“This ranking is… based purely on subjective judgment. But it is the expert subjective judgment of those who know most about excellent teaching and research – leading academics from around the world. And their opinion matters.

“A university’s global academic reputation is vital: it not only influences investments and funding decisions, but (most importantly) it also helps the institution to develop and nurture its single greatest asset – its student and academic talent.”

Among the six German universities in the top 100, LMU Munich came highest in 35th place, followed by the University of Heidelberg (38th) and the Humboldt University of Berlin (41st).

The President of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Professor Margret Wintermantel, said the effort by DAAD and other academic organisations to provide "detailed information about higher education and research in Germany and successful marketing research have contributed greatly to this improved perception of high quality".

The full tables can be seen here.