Best universities for employability: UK down amid Brexit fears

Placings for UK in latest edition of Global University Employability Survey may already be reflecting damage to country’s reputation

November 16, 2017
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Going down: Brexit may already be exacerbating the UK’s relative decline in the Global University Employability Ranking

Click to view the full Global University Employability Ranking 2017

The UK’s universities have lost ground in the latest edition of the Global University Employability Ranking, prompting suggestions that Brexit is already damaging the image of higher education in the country among the world’s major companies.

The University of Cambridge is now the only UK representative in the top 10 of the ranking of 150 institutions, designed by French human resources company Emerging and published exclusively in Times Higher Education, which has been topped by the California Institute of Technology for the second year running.

As part of the survey for the ranking, which has been conducted for the past seven years and published by THE since 2015, hundreds of recruiters spanning 22 countries were asked between May and September which universities they felt were producing the most employable graduates.

Although two other UK institutions (the University of Oxford at 15 and Imperial College London at 17) still make the top 20 this year, Oxford was down eight places and there were significant falls for some of the country’s other universities. Just 10 UK institutions now make the full list, down from 13 four years ago, with the University of Nottingham the latest to drop out.

Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging, said that the relative decline of the UK was a pattern that had slowly emerged since the first year of the ranking. He said that it reflected the rise of Asian universities as well as other key structural factors such as UK higher education traditionally being weaker on links with companies.

Its competitive advantage in being an English-speaking nation was also being eroded by more courses worldwide teaching in the language.

“English has become the lingua franca of the university world,” he said, pointing out that even in countries closely guarding their native languages, such as France, there are now degree courses in English, something that “would have been unthinkable 10 years ago”.

However, he added that he was still surprised that elite UK universities such as the University of Oxford, which normally hold their position thanks to their worldwide reputation, had fallen this year and suggested that Brexit may already be exacerbating the country’s relative decline.

“It is obvious that Brexit has huge implications for the higher education system in the UK,” said Mr Dupasquier. “As well as the draw of learning the language, the UK was [in the past] an open and welcoming place to go [for students]. Whether this is still the case has been put into doubt by Brexit.”

The US saw a mixed performance relative to last year despite dominating the top 10. Major names such as Stanford, Yale and Princeton universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all lost ground but others, including Boston University and Johns Hopkins University, went up.     

Germany and France, which now have more institutions in the ranking than the UK (11 and 12, respectively), saw most of their institutions hold their position or rise, while in Asia, mainland China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all continued to see their institutions gain places.

This year, the survey for the ranking also canvassed views on how universities worldwide are preparing students for jobs in the digital age.

Among the results were that firms see the US as the top country for producing graduates with digital skills, although Asian nations occupied six of the top 10 countries on this measure.

Global University Employability Ranking 2017 Top 10

2017 Rank Institution Country Score 2016 Rank Change
1 California Institute of Technology US 681 1 0
2 Harvard University US 643 3 1
3 Columbia University US 615 12 9
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US 575 2 -2
5 University of Cambridge UK 559 4 -1
6 Boston University US 553 11 5
7 Stanford University US 552 5 -2
8 Technical University of Munich Germany 545 8 0
9 University of Tokyo Japan 544 10 1
10 Yale University US 536 6 -4

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