Oxbridge leaves US finest trailing

October 13, 2006

While the UK comes top in science, no nation takes a definitive lead in technology. Martin Ince reports.

Cambridge and Oxford emerge as the first and second highest ranked science universities in the world for the third year in succession, according to votes from academics around the world.

Berkeley, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology secure the next three places in The Times Higher rankings for science.

These five institutions have filled the five top slots for science three years running since the World University Rankings were first established.

The rankings were compiled by data analysts Quacquarelli Symonds using figures supplied for the peer review of world universities published in The Times Higher last week.

The 3,703 academics questioned in the peer review exercise were each asked to name the top institutions in the fields of knowledge that they know best, choosing between science, technology, medicine, social science and the arts and humanities. This week, we publish the data for science and for technology. The results for medicine will be published on October 20 and the social sciences and the arts on October .

In addition, this analysis lists the number of citations per paper for each institution in the top 100, which featured in the Thomson Scientific Essential Science Indicators database between 2001 and 2006. These data have been provided by Evidence Ltd. We have not attempted to aggregate them with the peer review data.

The results for the science rankings may seem to contradict the judgment of the Nobel Prize Committee, which has just awarded the 2006 prizes in chemistry and physics. Once again, they went to US scientists - from Berkeley and Stanford universities, plus one from Nasa.

But although the UK's inability to bring in Nobel prizes has become a national obsession in science policy circles, there are signs that Britain is doing the right things to enhance its science base.

There are nine UK universities in the top 100 - joint second with Germany but behind the US with entrants.

Analyses suggest that the cost of original scientific research has been increasing at a pace that outstrips general inflation. This table suggests that although there are pockets of excellent research in many parts of the world, only rich countries can afford a big general presence in science.

The top 20 here are all in rich countries - the US, the UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and France - with the exception of one entrant each from China and Russia. This also means that good science is widespread in the rich world. This top 20 contains institutions from nine countries, while our main ranking draws its top 20 from only seven.

The appearance of Moscow and St Petersburg universities in this table suggests that, despite the long series of financial crises that have affected Russian higher education, a body of work is being carried out in Russia that is considered to be of world quality.

These universities both show up modestly when it comes to cited papers, but here, as elsewhere, experts in the field often form judgments of institutions that do not match the impression given by citations data.

Twenty of this top 100 did not publish enough highly cited papers between 2001 and 2006 to feature in this analysis.

Although our table shows that Tokyo University rather than Beijing University is Asia's leading science institution, the presence of five Chinese establishments in this top 100 proves that China is putting significant resources into expensive areas of research. There are 21 Asian universities here, plus seven from Australia and two from Israel, showing that the dominance of the UK and the US cannot be taken for granted indefinitely.

* Our table of highly cited non-university institutions in science shows that not all countries keep their top researchers in universities. China, Russia, France, Italy, Spain and Germany all have substantial research organisations whose scientists are highly productive, as does Nasa in the US. Also prominent are big nuclear laboratories in the US.

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