These are the UK universities which rank the highest in the 2021 world league table

Where did your university rank? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Where did your university rank? (Photo: Shutterstock)

The best universities in the world have been named in a new list for 2021, with institutions across the UK slumping in the league table for the fourth consecutive year.

Almost three quarters of the country’s universities have slipped down the rankings, marking the worst ever performance for the UK in the international table.

Why has UK performance dropped?

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    The world rankings list is compiled by data and research group QS.

    Its methodology is based on employer and academic reputation, class size, research output and international and student numbers, and is recognised as one of the most highly regarded international league tables in the world.

    While the University of Oxford continued its reign as the best in the UK, the institution dropped from fourth to fifth place in the 2020 list.

    University College London slipped two places to clinch its place in the top 10, while Cambridge University held on to its seventh place position.

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    Imperial College London climbed one place to rank in eighth, and the University of Edinburgh rounded out the top 20, retaining its place as 20th in the world.

    A total of 66 of the UK’s 84 ranked universities saw their staff to student ratio decline - 59 said they had a drop in research citations. A further 51 institutions noted a fall in the number of international students.

    Compilers of the rankings attributed the falls to poor teaching and delicining research impact.

    QS director of research, Ben Sowter, said the lower rankings in the UK mirror those in North American and European countries, as a result of increasing investment in higher education in other parts of the world.

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    Sowter suggested Brexit, financial uncertainty and rapid expansion all contributed to the falls in the UK, and recommended more investment in teaching capacity to help rankings improve.

    He said: “Investment in teaching capacity would serve the British higher education sector well, and help it to regain lost ground. 

    “So, too, would concerted efforts to ensure that Britain continues to remain an attractive place for talented academics and students to study in the future, and a national desire to continue collaborating with our European and global partners on transformative research projects.

    “Increases in student numbers need to come alongside sufficient increases in teaching capacity, without which there is an increased likelihood that teaching quality will suffer.

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    The University of Bristol is one UK institution that has faced criticism from its local council for rapid expansion, and slipped outside of the top 50 for the first time this year, falling nine places to rank in 58th place.

    The remaining UK universities rounding out the top 50 include the London School of Economics, which fell five places to 49th, King’s College London, which rose to 31st, and the University of Manchester which ranked in 27th.

    Which university is the best in the world?

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) retained the number one spot for the ninth year, with Stanford University taking second place, followed by Harvard University, both of which kept their previous rankings.

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    Asian universities also had their best performance yet, with 26 featuring in the top 100 in the world, including institutes in China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

    What are the UK rankings for 2020?

    These are the top universities in the UK, according to the QS World University Rankings 2021.

    University of Oxford

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    World rank: 5

    University of Cambridge

    World rank: 7

    Imperial College London

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    World rank: 8

    University College London

    World rank: 10

    The University of Edinburgh

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    World rank: 20

    The University of Manchester

    World rank: 27

    King’s College London

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    World rank: 31

    The London School of Economics and Political Science 

    World rank: 49

    University of Bristol

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    World rank: 58

    The University of Warwick

    World rank: 62

    University of Glasgow

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    World rank: 77

    Durham University

    World rank: 86

    University of Birmingham

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    World rank: 87

    University of Southampton

    World rank: 90

    University of Leeds

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    World rank: 91

    University of Sheffield

    World rank: 93

    University of St Andrews

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    World rank: 96

    University of Nottingham

    World rank: 99

    Queen Mary University of London

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    World rank: 114

    Lancaster University

    World rank: 135

    University of York

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    World rank: 150

    Newcastle University

    World rank: 152

    Cardiff University

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    World rank: 159

    The University of Exeter

    World rank: 164

    University of Bath

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    World rank: 173

    University of Liverpool

    World rank: 181

    University of Reading

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    World rank: 205

    University of Aberdeen

    World rank: 207

    Queen’s University Belfast

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    World rank: 209

    Loughborough University

    World rank: 226

    University of Leicester

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    World rank: 242

    University of Sussex

    World rank: 246

    University of Surrey

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    World rank: 267

    University of Strathclyde

    World rank: 300

    Heriot-Watt University

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    World rank: 301

    Royal Holloway University of London

    World rank: 308

    University of Dundee

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    World rank: 319

    University of East Anglia

    World rank: 333

    Birbeck, University of London

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    World rank: 344

    SOAS University of London

    World rank: 346

    City, University of London

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    World rank: 350

    Brunel University London

    World rank: 368

    University of Kent

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    World rank: 380

    Oxford Brookes University

    World rank: 383

    University of Essex

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    World rank: 411

    Goldsmiths, University of London

    World rank: 416

    Swansea University

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    World rank: 474

    Aberystwyth University

    World rank: 485

    University of Stirling

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    World rank: 485

    Aston University

    World rank: 511-520

    Coventry University

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    World rank: 541-550

    Kingston University, London

    World rank: 581-590

    Bangor University

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    World rank: 601-650

    Ulster University

    World rank: 601-650

    University of Bradford

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    World rank: 601-650

    University of Hull

    World rank: 601-650

    University of Portsmouth

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    World rank: 601-650

    Northumbria University at Newcastle

    World rank: 651-700

    University of Plymouth

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    World rank: 651-700

    University of Westminster

    World rank: 651-700

    Keele University

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    World rank: 701-750

    Middlesex University

    World rank: 701-750

    University of Greenwich

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    World rank: 701-750

    University of Huddersfield

    World rank: 701-750

    Bournemouth University

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    World rank: 751-800

    London South Bank University

    World rank: 751-800

    Nottingham Trent University

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    World rank: 751-800

    Birmingham City University

    World rank: 801-1000

    De Montford University

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    World rank: 801-1000

    Edinburgh Napier University

    World rank: 801-1000

    Glasgow Caledonian University

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    World rank: 801-1000

    Liverpool John Moores University

    World rank: 801-1000

    London Metropolitan University

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    World rank: 801-1000

    Manchester Metropolitan University

    World rank: 801-1000

    Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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    World rank: 801-1000

    Sheffield Hallam University

    World rank: 801-1000

    Robert Gordon University

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    World rank: 801-1000

    University of Brighton

    World rank: 801-1000

    University of Central Lancashire

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    World rank: 801-1000

    University of East London

    World rank: 801-1000

    University of Hertfordshire

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    World rank: 801-1000

    University of Lincoln

    World rank: 801-1000

    University of Salford

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    World rank: 801-1000

    University of the West of England

    World rank: 801-1000