Students relax outside in Peckwater Quadrangle, Christ Church, Oxford University. Photograph: Robert Harding World Imagery/Alamy
Oxford and Cambridge have grabbed the top slots in the musical chairs of the international university league table, despite fears that British higher education is facing disruption over funding and student tuition fees.
The latest rankings by Times Higher Education (THE) put Oxford on top for the second year in a row and rival Cambridge in second, displacing the California Institute of Technology.
The sterling performance of Oxbridge and other British universities comes as a fillip to the sector after a summer of headlines criticising vice-chancellors’ pay and rising graduate debt, with the government threatening to overhaul funding.
At the THE summit on Monday, Louise Richardson, Oxford’s vice-chancellor, attacked “completely mendacious” politicians who had suggested university leaders were using increased tuition fees to enhance their salaries.
The THE table shows Britain’s elite, research-orientated universities compare well against their overseas rivals, but those a few rungs down have experienced sharp drops in their standings.
Imperial College in London remains in eighth place overall, University College London is 16th and the London School of Economics 25th.
Overall, half of the UK’s top 200 universities have dropped places. The University of Warwick falls to 91st, and the University of St Andrews – where Richardson was previously vice-chancellor – slips 33 places to joint 143rd.
The table also shows the rise of Asian institutions, with China’s Peking University sharing joint 27th place with the University of Edinburgh and New York University.
Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group of leading research universities in the UK, said: “While we would caution against using league tables in isolation to reach conclusions about the quality of any one institution or degree course, these new rankings paint a clear overall picture.
“Russell Group universities, in particular, are holding their position near or at the top of the rankings despite increasing competition from other established and emerging nations. This is evidence that they retain an enviable global reputation for providing outstanding teaching and genuinely world-class research.”
THE’s table tells a similar story to that of the QS world university rankingspublished in July, in which 57 of the 76 listed UK institutions received lower ratings than in the previous year, and British universities occupied four of the top eight places.