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Graduates gather outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University in Oxford
Image: Graduates gather outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University in Oxford. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

UK Universities Shake Brexit Blues, Climb League Table

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Image: Graduates gather outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University in Oxford. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

British universities have shaken off their Brexit blues by topping a global league table for the first time in over a decade.

Oxford and Cambridge Make History

University of Oxford and Cambridge University took the top-two spots in the Times Higher Education ranking — the first time both schools have held them.

The California Institute of Technology, which was number one between 2012 and 2016, is in joint third with local rival Stanford University.

A Morale Booster

The ranking will provide a significant boost to morale and marketing. It was published shortly before a cross-party group of Mayors joined the chorus of calls for the UK government to change its international student policies after a dramatic drop in the number going to the country to study.

Growth in the number of students from abroad studying in the UK has come to a near standstill as the government has refused to remove them from net immigration statistics. The number of EU applicants applying for full-time undergraduate courses in the UK fell by 5%.

Income Increases

One of the reasons for British universities’ rise was that they reported large rises in income, up 24% for Oxford and 11% for Cambridge, which also noted improvements in the quality of its research.

Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “We welcome the fact that UK institutions feature so highly in this year’s rankings, demonstrating their continued importance to the country and its economy.”

The Higher Education Policy Institute, a think-tank, recently published research estimating that overseas students bring £22.6 billion of benefits to the British economy while incurring a cost of only £2.3 billion on the public sector.

Research Funding Fears

But fears remain that Brexit will damage the UK’s high reputation for quality research because access to EU funding may dry up.

Around one-quarter of research funding from competitive grants to Cambridge comes from the UK, and for Oxford the figure is about a fifth.

The researchers who compiled the ranking warned that Brexit could pose risks to the UK’s global performance. They also pointed out that the full effects of Brexit are yet to be felt.

Phil Baty, editorial director for the THE Global Rankings, said: “The UK higher education system is facing intense political pressure, with questions over the value for money provided by £9,250 tuition fees in England, our continued attractiveness to international students, the flow of research funding and academic talent post-Brexit, and even levels of vice-chancellors’ pay.

“The data show UK universities are consistently producing ground-breaking new research, which is driving innovation; they are [also] attracting international student and academic talent, and are providing a world-class teaching environment.

“They are a huge national asset, and one that the country can ill afford to undermine at a time when its place in the global order is under intense scrutiny.”

Baty added that “if we cannot agree a sustainable way to properly fund our universities, we fail to welcome global students, and if the research funding and academic talent that currently comes to us from the European Union is cut off”.

“But one thing this new data makes absolutely clear, is that the UK has many of the very best universities in the world, and it has one of the world’s strongest higher education systems,” he said.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.