UK universities are top destinations for mobile Nobel laureates

The University of Cambridge is the top UK institution for hosting both international and British students who go on to win Nobel prizes, finds British Council

October 6, 2015
University of Cambridge
Source: iStock

The UK is the top destination for Nobel prizewinners who have studied abroad, according to a study from the British Council.

Nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) of Nobel laureates who studied at universities outside their home country went to an institution in the UK – more than any other country – the research found.

The statistics, which are based on past winners, have been published as the Nobel Institute announces its 2015 winners this week.

Of the 860 individuals who have received a Nobel award since 1901, 131 had studied at an overseas university for some or all of their higher education; 50 in the UK, 37 (28 per cent) in the US and 23 (18 per cent) in Germany.


Nobel winners by prize category
British Council


The UK university that has hosted the most international students who went on to win Nobel prizes is the University of Cambridge (18 laureates), followed by the University of Oxford (11) and the London School of Economics (five) (see table below).

The most common Nobel prize for UK alumni was physiology or medicine, with 17 winners. Eight UK alumni won prizes for physics, eight for chemistry, seven for economics, five for literature and five for peace.

The most recent Nobel prizewinner who had studied in the UK as an overseas student is Randy Schekman, an American cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who won the 2013 prize for physiology or medicine. While an undergraduate, Professor Schekman spent his third year studying at the University of Edinburgh.

Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, said that there were 493,570 international students studying at UK universities in 2013-14 and it is “thrilling to imagine what they will go [on] to achieve and which of them could be future Nobel laureates; with their experience here as a springboard to that”.

The study also found that there have been 91 British winners of the prize since 1901. The University of Cambridge again dominates, having taught 48 British students who went on to win Nobel prizes, followed by the University of Oxford (17) and the University of Manchester (seven) (see table below).

The research was undertaken in September 2015 and detailed where each Nobel laureate studied as an undergraduate and postgraduate. A winner was classified as an international student if they were found to have studied for all or part of their degree in a country other than the country of their birth.

Where a student studied in two countries other than their country of birth, the British Council recorded both locations. Four people have won the Nobel prize twice and in these cases were double-counted when recording prizes by field. 

UK universities that have hosted international students who have gone on to win a Nobel prize

UK university Number of Nobel laureates (international students)
University of Cambridge 18
University of Oxford 11
London School of Economics 5
University College London 4
University of Edinburgh 3
King's College London 2
University of Essex 2
University of Liverpool 2
University of London 2
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 1
University of Bristol 1
University of Glasgow 1
University of Leeds 1
University of Manchester 1
University of Greenwich 1

Top UK universities that have hosted British students who have gone on to win a Nobel prize

Rank UK university Number of Nobel laureates (British) 
1 University of Cambridge 48
2 University of Oxford 17
3 University of Manchester 7
4 University of Birmingham 4
=5 University College London  3
=5 University of Glasgow 3
=6 Imperial College London 2
=6 King's College London 2
=6 University of Edinburgh 2
=6 University of Liverpool 2
=6 University of Sheffield 2

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