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Recently the annual QS World University rankings were announced.  It’s a rare chance for us in the UK to look at where we stand and how we shape up against some of the top institutions out there.

University rankings

The United States heads the list, with the top two institutions in the world being Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.  Both of these universities have always been near the top, in part thanks to the massive endowments (Harvard received over $30bn last year alone) and the ability to attract some of  the best and brightest minds in the world for leading research.

After the top two, though, things get interesting.  What we suddenly see is a long list of British universities listing above some top American rivals.

  • Third in the world was… you guessed it.  University of Cambridge.
  • Next up was University College London.  This surprised me a bit, seeing as there is always the great notion that Oxford comes straight after.
  • As you look further down the list you have Imperial College and then Oxford, followed by four renowned American institutions, the four being Stanford, Yale, Chicago and California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

For a while I have wondered how on earth British universities could keep pace with the USA.  However, whatever is being done appears to be working.  The best universities in the UK are at present keeping up and that is a good start.  However, I think it doesn’t really go far enough.  Besides a small group of elite universities in this country, we don’t really have enough to keep pace with America – I firmly believe that the answer lies in attracting students and clearly marking university as the most attractive option out there.  There are so many different options which we can clearly integrate into universities in Britain, ranging from different course types to sports and so on.

I for example, am in France presently. I am studying for a DUT qualification in Grenoble.  The DUT is somewhat close to our HND qualification in England and it attracts a lot of people who don’t want the pressures of a full degree.  Combine all of this and you end up with a total of 60,000 students in the city.  Suddenly, you can see how having different levels of courses for people could well attract great numbers to a town or area.

So if we could bring all of this together universities will become more of an attractive option for people across the country.  Making it more accessible for people will help too – one argument is that American universities charge so much money and that is what makes them great (they only attract the best and so are the best.)  Somehow I don’t think there is much appetite for that here in the UK.  More accessible means, if anything, cutting the fees that students pay.

We’re off to a good start.  However, we still have a long way to go.

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