Leader: Invest to stay ahead

October 27, 2006

The last of this year's World University Rankings are published today, with more good news for Oxford and Cambridge (and other UK universities) in the social sciences and humanities. These specialist tables are based entirely on peer review and do not contain mediating factors such as citations and staffing levels. But, like those for the sciences, they paint a picture of leading UK institutions that some will find surprisingly rosy. They enjoy the advantages of longevity, widely dispersed alumni and (above all) use of the English language, but these are shared with most of the big names on the other side of the Atlantic.

American unpopularity on the world stage may play a part in depressing some Ivy League scores, as may the reluctance of many US academics to engage with international comparisons. But the aggregated views of academics around the world underline the continued high standing of leading UK universities. This is something that should be both celebrated and developed, but that must not breed complacency. If the conclusion drawn from this year's results is that universities outside the US can perform well enough without the riches enjoyed by their competitors, their successes will be short-lived.

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