Cambridge falls to lowest ever place in world university league table

Cambridge University
by Hayley Pearce | 19 June 2019

Two-thirds of UK's ranked universities drop as well

UK universities are continuing their downwards trend, slipping down the QS World University Rankings league table for the third year in a row.

Cambridge, which was in sixth place last year, is now in seventh place – its lowest-ever position in the league table.

The decline in position was as a result of steadily declining research performance, which is measured by citations per member of academic staff.

In the table, two-thirds of the 84 UK universities in the top 1,000 have seen their rankings fall.

Employer ratings and students:to staff ratio

The compilers at QS say the reasons for so many UK universities dropping are an average fall of 41 places in ratings from 44,000 employers around the world and a decrease of 34 places in the number of students per staff member.

But Oxford has bucked the trend, rising from fifth to fourth, behind Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Harvard.

Oxford overtook Cambridge for the first time last year.

Aside from Oxford, only 11 UK universities improved their position, including UCL, which is now in eighth place.

The other UK universities in the top 20 were Imperial (in ninth place) and Edinburgh (in 20th place), which are both ranked lower than last year.

Education one of UK's 'finest exports'

Ben Sowter, director of research at QS, said: “For decades, UK higher education has been one of the country’s finest exports to the world.

“The sector has produced outstanding research, fostered world-class teaching, forged transformational links to industry and welcomed millions of talented young people.

“To ensure that this privileged situation continues, it is essential that those with the power to do so redouble their efforts to improve teaching capacity so as to reduce the burden on passionate but beleaguered academics, reach a clear conclusion about the fee status of EU students post-Brexit and do their utmost to ensure that the UK remains a part of EU research collaboration frameworks into the future.”

View the full 2020 QS World University Rankings here.

In the 2020 league table, Cambridge is now behind ETH Zurich, making the Swiss technical university the second-highest ranking institution in Europe.

Sowter added that Cambridge’s drop is not necessarily a sign that the university is struggling, as it reflects the fact that it is now spending more on teaching rather than research: “[This] should be perceived as a sensible strategic decision designed to ensure that Cambridge’s reputation for outstanding teaching and highly employable graduates continues into the future.”

QS world rankings methodology is based on employer and academic reputation, class sizes, research output and international staff and students numbers.

It is one of the most highly regarded international league tables, which have become increasingly popular since universities began to compete globally to attract students and staff in recent years.

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