Scottish universities lose ground in global table

Kings College and tomb of Bishop William Elphinstone at the University of Aberdeen
Kings College and tomb of Bishop William Elphinstone at the University of Aberdeen
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SCOTLAND’S leading universities have slid down a prestigious global league table amid warnings that the UK’s academic strength is increasingly concentrated in the “golden triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

The universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, regularly named among the best places to study in the UK, lost ground on their elite English rivals in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Aberdeen also fell back, but both Dundee and Glasgow improved their position.

The compilers of the league table, which is seen as the “gold standard” for judging institutions, said the results showed power “draining” from regional cities across the UK towards London and Oxbridge.

The annual list put Edinburgh in 39th position, down from 32nd last year but still well ahead of St Andrews, which fell from 108th to 117th. Glasgow rose 22 places from 139th to join St Andrews at 117th, while Aberdeen fell from 176th to 188th. Dundee University re-entered the top 200 at 196th.

The league table uses a series of indicators to measure how universities perform on teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Despite warnings that some UK institutions are in decline, the top of the list was again dominated by English and US universities, with the California Institute of Technology in first place and Oxford and Harvard tying for second.

Elizabeth Gibney, of the Times Higher Education, said: “These rankings will be a cause for concern for Scottish universities. The main thing we’ve seen is the very strong performance of the London universities and the regions are suffering.

“The picture may be rosier in Scotland because it has stronger regional policies than elsewhere, so funding being concentrated in London might not have the same effect. However, success breeds success and as London becomes a hub, it will attract more of the best people and funding.” Despite gains by universities in Asia, the UK remains the strongest performer outside the US, with 31 of the top 200 institutions.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “We have more universities in the world’s top 200 per head of population than any other nation, making us one of the strongest higher education systems in the world.”

He added: “Our universities make an important contribution to Scotland’s economy by delivering significant returns on public investment, attracting international students and inward investment, creating and supporting Scottish businesses and jobs, and producing highly skilled graduates with the best employment prospects in the UK.”

Education secretary Mike Russell said: “Scottish universities are known at home and abroad for their excellence and this is highlighted by the fact that five of our universities feature in these international rankings. Scotland has the most universities per head of population, which clearly shows we continue to excel and build on our unrivalled record of success.

“Taken together with the recent QS ratings, it demonstrates that our substantial investment in higher education – over £1 billion annually – is paying off and most importantly, delivering exceptional opportunities for students and employers.”

World top 10

2013-14 Institution

1 California Institute of Technology (US)

2 Harvard University (US)

2 University of Oxford (UK)

4 Stanford University (US)

5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)

6 Princeton University (US)

7 University of Cambridge (UK)

8 University of California, Berkeley (US)

9 University of Chicago (US)

10 Imperial College London (UK)