THE University of Edinburgh has climbed to its highest-ever place in a global rankings list to be named the 17th best university in the world.
The institution reached the milestone in the latest annual QS World University Rankings, with judges praising its world-class research and saying “graduates are some of the most employable in Europe”.
The University of Glasgow also gained its highest world ranking, rising three places from 54th to 51st, and the University of St Andrews rose ten places to 83rd. Edinburgh moved up from 21st place last year and, in a further breakdown, was placed 13th in the world in the Arts and Humanities category.
The University of Cambridge remains top in the UK, but slipped a single place on the global list to third this year. Massachusetts Institute of Technology was ranked top for the second year in a row, with Harvard in second.
A record six British institutions made it into the top 20, with four among the best ten.
Also in the top ten were University College London (UCL) in fourth place, Imperial College London in fifth and the University of Oxford in sixth.
The league table was published as Edinburgh announced it had been awarded £300 million in competitive research grants in 2012-13 – 20 per cent more than the £250m it secured in 2011-12.
Principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea said: “The news about our research funding figures, and our continued rise in the various world league tables, reflects the quality, hard work and dedication of our staff and students as well as the highly strategic support we receive from the Scottish Government.
“With such support, the university can go on producing world-leading research which has the potential to change people’s lives for the better.”
Education minister Michael Russell added: “Scottish Government support in partnership with the university has allowed Edinburgh to become even more successful in levering further funding from other sources.”
Ben Sowter, head of research at QS, said the prestige of a UK degree was recognised by employers around the world.
But despite the strong performance, experts warned the UK’s leading position could be under threat without more funding. The authors said that of the 45 British institutions in the top 400, 29 ranked lower than they did at the time of the economic crisis in 2008-9.
Cambridge was the only UK university to make the global top 30 for research, with UCL, Oxford and Imperial in the top 50. This suggested that the UK was struggling to keep up with the United States in producing cutting-edge research, the authors said.
John O’Leary, of the QS global academic advisory board, said: “The UK invests below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average in higher education, so it is unrealistic to expect its universities to continue to punch above their weight indefinitely.
“The current success of leading institutions shows how vital it is that the government matches the investments being made by other countries in order to maintain their world-class status.”
David Willetts, the UK universities minister, said the results were “fantastic news”.
He added: “We are not complacent, and we know we must work hard to remain the best. Our reforms to undergraduate finance have put universities on a sustainable financial footing and sharpened incentives to deliver a world-class student experience.”
• The UK universities in the global top 100 are:
4 University College London
5 Imperial College London
19 King’s College London
68 London School of Economics and Political Science
83 St Andrews