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UK university rankings drop for the fourth year in a row

Nearly three-quarters of the UK’s universities dropped in rankings, resulting in the country’s worst-ever performance in the QS World University Rankings table.

Oxford University fell from fourth to fifth place and University College London from eighth to tenth. Imperial College London rose from ninth to eighth, making it the only UK university in the top 20 to improve its ranking.  The University of Warwick remains at number 62.

The QS World University Rankings measures university rankings based on employer and academic reputation, class sizes, research output and international staff and student numbers.

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

“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,” Mr Sowter added. 

Asian universities enjoyed their best-ever showing in the QS tables. 26 universities in countries including China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore now feature in the top 100, with the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore holding 11th and 13th place respectively, while Tsinghua University is in 15th place.

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

– Ben Sowter

The drop in UK university rankings has been attributed to poor teaching and declining research impact. Compilers also blamed the fall on Brexit, tightening budgets, financial uncertainty and unchecked expansion, Sowter said.  

Out of the 84 ranked universities in the UK, 66 saw their staff to student ratio decline while 59 had a drop in research citations. International student numbers at 51 universities also fell.

Covid-19 may exacerbate the situation with a rise in student mobility within Asia and the rise of countries such as China and Malaysia as potential major competitors in terms of international student recruitment, an international education expert has predicted.

John McNamara, global research manager for international education services at the British Council, said that intra-regional mobility was a “rising phenomenon” before the pandemic but “might become even more so” in the wake of the crisis.

UK universities have also been told to expect a sharp fall in the number of new international students coming next year, including a loss of up to £460 million in income from students from east Asia following a survey of international students by the British Council. 

A decline of 20% in students from East Asia was predicted for next academic year, forming a 12% fall in overall international student numbers.

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