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United Kingdom universities have taken the top two places in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the first time in its 14 year history, with the University of Oxford holding onto top spot and the University of Cambridge jumping from fourth to second.

Overall, the United States continues to dominate the rankings with twice as many universities in the top 200 (62) as the UK (31). Germany (20), the Netherlands (13) and Australia (eight) are also well represented in the top 200 universities.

But it is the ascendancy of Chinese universities that continues to catch the eye, with two in the top 30 for the first time. China’s lower ranked universities have also made big gains.

Almost all Chinese universities have improved their standing, signalling that the country’s commitment to investment in universities has bolstered results year on year, according to Times Higher Education or THE.

Phil Baty, THE’s editorial director, global rankings, said: “The rise of China in this year’s table is remarkable and demonstrates the way the global higher education landscape is changing. With two top 30 representatives, China’s leading universities are truly now part of the global elite and overtaking prestigious universities in the US, UK and Europe.

“But the results show that other East Asian nations are feeling the competition from this Asian giant. South Korea, which has been improving in recent years, is one of many victims of China’s success this year. Japan’s UTokyo [University of Tokyo] has also suffered. East Asian countries outside of China will need to work hard to stay stable as its neighbour soars to join the global elite.”

Among US universities, the notable improvements included the University of Pennsylvania moving up three places to tie 10th and Johns Hopkins University jumping four places to 13th.

The biggest casualty from last year’s top 10 was the University of California, Berkeley which last year announced a US$150 million deficit following declining state funding and a five year freeze on undergraduate tuition fees. It dropped eight places, from 10th to 18th.

Two fifths of the US institutions in the top 200 (29 out of 62) have dropped places and around the same number have faced reductions in their research income since last year, THE noted, and future levels of federal research income under the Trump administration are in doubt.

In contrast, five of China’s seven top 200 representatives saw a boost in their research income, meaning that some leading US universities have now been overtaken by Asian institutions.

The National University of Singapore has overtaken Carnegie Mellon University, Tsinghua University now ranks above the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology performs better than the University of California, Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, Peking University is now on a par with New York University.

In addition, there are signs that US universities are already starting to feel the effects of anti immigration policies in the country, with international students less likely to apply to US universities and less likely to accept offers from them post application, THE suggested.

Baty said: “The US has seen its dominance of global rankings wane further this year as it loses out to institutions in the UK and Asia. For the first time this year US universities do not hold either of the top two spots of the ranking a real blow to the country’s higher education sector.

“Meanwhile, funding concerns for America’s public universities, uncertainty around future levels of research income,
patent leather dr martens Chinese universities hit new heights in global ranking
anti immigration policies and the continued rise of Asia mean that the US’s position may decline further in future years.”

US universities’ future levels of research income under the Trump administration are in question, with funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Institutes of Health among those targeted for cuts or abolition, THE noted.

Meanwhile, a survey found almost half of US universities reporting a decline in international students accepting undergraduate offers in the wake of the country’s anti immigration policies, which may further put pressure on US institutional finances.

Canada has fared better overall than the US, generally maintaining a steady performance in the table, with the notable exception of McMaster University, which leapt 35 places from 113th to 78th.

Europe has maintained a strong performance despite the increasing competition from Asia, led by Oxford and Cambridge, which registered significant increases in their total institutional income, up 24% and 11% respectively, while both the California Institute of Technology (down 23%) and Stanford University (down 24%) saw significant revenue falls in the reporting period and came joint third. Cambridge also saw improvements in its research quality, THE noted.

However, the results underline the risk Brexit may pose to the global performance of the UK’s leading universities.

Almost a quarter of the research funding from competitive grants to the University of Cambridge comes from the European Union, while the proportion at the University of Oxford is about a fifth, THE said.

In addition, there are signs that UK universities are already starting to suffer from the Brexit vote, THE noted. The number of EU applicants looking to study on full time undergraduate courses in the UK has declined by 5% since last year.

The findings also suggest a widening gulf between the UK’s super elite institutions and other universities. While leading institutions Oxford and Cambridge and certain London based institutions have remained steady Imperial College London remains at eighth, University College London is down just one place at 16th, and the London School of Economics and Political Science remains at 25th, for example several of the lower ranked universities have declined.

The University of Warwick has dropped nine places to 91st and the University of St Andrews plummeted 33 places to joint 143rd, for example. Overall, just over half of the UK’s top 200 representatives (16 out of 31) have dropped places.

This is the first time that two European institutions have taken the top two spots and Switzerland’s ETH Zurich the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich also clings onto a spot in the top 10, after dropping one place from ninth to joint 10th.

Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin has jumped 14 places to 117th.

Italy and Spain both have new number ones thanks to large rises for two of their institutions: Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (=155th, up from =190th) and Pompeu Fabra University (140th, up from 175th).

But the rise of Asia is becoming an increasing threat to Europe’s standing in the rankings, just as it is with US universities’ standing.

China’s top two now outrank Germany’s top institution LMU Munich (=34th). Germany also has two fewer institutions in the top 200; of the 20 institutions that still make this cohort, 12 have slipped.

Tsinghua University (up from 35th to 30th) has also overtaken Switzerland’s cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (down from =30th to =38th),
patent leather dr martens Chinese universities hit new heights in global ranking
and Peking University (up two places to =27) now outranks the Karolinska Institute (down 10 places to =38) and is on a par with the University of Edinburgh (=27).

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