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Times Higher Education has published its ranking list of top world universities. Two significant trends, which to some extent mirror the wider geopolitical context, are visible – the steep increase of Asian universities’ presence in the ranking and a consistent downward trend for the UK universities. Although still holding top place with the Oxford university, the funding gap between the UK sector and other major higher education systems is widening and it has an effect on the rankings. Apart from Oxford’s top position, most of the country’s leading universities have dropped in ranking by a few places - 28 universities in the top 200, down from 34 in 2015. In the past year, 18 of these 28 have dropped by at least one place. The US has 60 institutions in the top 200 of the table, down from 63 in 2016.
On the other side, Asian universities are consistently moving up the ladder. For the first time, China has the top two universities in Asia - Tsinghua and Peking Universities . This is due to China’s excellence initiatives, talent attraction programmes and stricter monitoring and evaluation system in place since 2015, which removes the less efficient users of resources from the list of beneficiaries.
Germany is another nation with the promising longer-term trend. Unlike the UK and US with a smaller number of excellent universities, it has a broad group of universities among the 200 best worldwide. Government’s Excellence Initiative, which ran from 2005 to 2017, provided additional funding for graduate schools, clusters of excellence (internationally competitive fields of research at universities and university consortia) and institutional strategies.
In Denmark, The University of Copenhagen (101st place) and Aarhus University (102nd place) are close to the top 100. After a 2% annual declines in funding since 2016, the newly elected government committed to “stop the savings”. The University of Copenhagen invested EUR 5 million in the Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary research 2013-2017. It has increased university’s additional funding making it one of the top five in Europe for Horizon 2020.