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Brexit may affect the ranking of UK universities

The impact of leaving the EU on higher education institutions could see British universities fall from their current strong position

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons; Diliff

The global ranking of UK universities have been revealed, along with a warning that Brexit could impact the high performance of British institutions. QS compile rankings of universities globally and have recently published their World University Rankings which show the top rated universities in individual subjects.

British universities are top in 13 out of 48 subjects, which is three more than last year. Only the United States have more universities ranked highest in their specialist fields. The Director of Research for QS rankings, Ben Sowter, warned that the success of British universities may be affected by future Brexit effects: “Much of the highly cited research that has contributed to UK success this year will have come about as a result of collaboration with EU universities and as a consequence of participation in EU schemes.

“As our date for departure approaches, this year’s results serve as a reminder of the enduring value provided by close collaboration with researchers, universities, and industry across the world.”UK universities make use of research networks in Europe, such as Horizon 2020 and study abroad schemes, such as Erasmus. The Government has said they intend to negotiate continued access to such research networks and exchange schemes; however, many universities are
concerned without solid reassurance.

Nouse reported in January that the University of York is signing a new ‘Maastricht Treaty’, a £3 million partnership deal with the University of Maastricht. This deal is designed to help secure funding and maintain student and staff exchange channels with Europe, regardless of what the outcome of Brexit is. In January, a joint letter from the heads of 150 UK universities was sent to MPs. The letter warned that a no-deal Brexit was “one of the biggest threats” that universities have ever faced.

In the QS Subject Ratings, the  University of Oxford is the top performing of the UK universities. Oxford comes out on top in Anthropology, Archaeology, English Literature and Language, Geography and Pharmacy. For Anatomy, the University of Cambridge ranks first. UCL also does well, and The Bartlett School of Architecture has been ranked as first in the world. The Royal School of Art is first for art studies, and LSE is first for Social Policy and Administration. The Royal College of Art’s Vice-Chan-cellor, Paul Thompson, said it was recognition for the achievements of a “small, specialist
research-intensive” institution. The University of Sheffield scooped second in the world in library and information management degrees behind the University of British Columbia in Canada. Interestingly, Loughborough University is first in the world for sport, despite not making it into the top 200 in the overall rankings. In these overall rankings (not stratified by subject), the University of York is 134th in the world. In subject ranking, Social Policy is ranked as ninth in the world, Archaelogy as 15th, and English Language and Literature as 24th.

Globally, the US did best among the rankings. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took the top places in the QE Rankings. The UK did second in the world, followed by Australia, China, and Germany.

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said that in an “increasingly competitive global market” UK universities were still attracting EU students. Skidmore commented that: “The latest UCAS data shows that overall the numbers of applicants and acceptances from EU nationals to full-time undergraduate higher education were both higher than in 2017, with the number of acceptances from the EU at a record high.”

While the government has given reassurances that the UK’s high global position in higher education will not be affected by Brexit, it is clear that many heads of universities, as well as others within the field, are worried that Britain’s world-beating performance may be negatively impacted by an uneasy exit from the EU.


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