Universitas 21: UK sector leads world on pound-for-pound basis

UK universities return to top of ranking after two-year absence, boasting productivity levels above the expected level of achievement

April 2, 2019
UK flags
Source: Getty

UK universities are the most effective in the world when taking into account national income levels, according to an extensive new ranking of higher education systems.

Analysis by the Universitas 21 group suggests that while US institutions come top overall for resources, environment, connectivity and output, the UK punches well above its weight when controlling for national levels of economic development.

The Finnish higher education system follows in second place, slipping from pole position in 2018. The report notes that both countries perform well above the expected level for their respective income levels, each with a score that is about 20 per cent higher than the average level of achievement.

The UK returns to the top position after two years away, having come second last year. It also ranks second for knowledge transfer with business and 11th for joint scientific publications, with the authors of the analysis noting that “connectivity with industry is relatively strong”.

Other high performers in the ranking adjusted for gross domestic product include Serbia in third place, a non-mover from last year, South Africa in fourth place and Denmark in fifth.

Universitas 21 ranking 2019 top 10: adjusted for economic development

2019 rank 2018 rank Country
1 2 United Kingdom
2 1 Finland
3 3 Serbia
4 8 South Africa
5 4 Denmark
6 12 Canada
7 5 Sweden
8 10 New Zealand
9 7 Switzerland
10 11 Australia

Countries showing the largest increases in the share of publications that were authored jointly with international colleagues were Saudi Arabia, Greece, the Netherlands, the UK, Australia and Singapore.

Ross Williams, emeritus professor of econometrics at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the study, suggested that generous national policies were essential alongside adequate resources for building quality higher education systems. “Diversity of engagement is also important,” he said. “Research is cited much more if it involves joint work with industry and with international collaborators.”

The Universitas 21 rankings are created by a global consortium of research universities to compare the performance of whole countries, as an alternative to rankings that focus on individual institutions.

Institutions are measured on 24 separate variables, including the number and impact of research articles produced, university enrolment and graduate unemployment, a qualitative assessment of a country’s policy environment, and spending on tertiary education as a proportion of GDP.

An overall ranking is derived using a weight of 40 per cent for output and 20 per cent each for resources, policy environment and connectivity. By this measurement, the top eight countries, in rank order, are the US, Switzerland, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Singapore and Australia.


Universitas 21 ranking 2019 top 10: main ranking

2019 rank 2018 rank Country
1 1 United States
2 2 Switzerland
3 3 United Kingdom
4 4 Sweden
5 5 Denmark
6 8 Canada
7 9 Singapore
8 10 Australia
9 6 Finland
10 6 Netherlands


Print headline: UK HE is a global champ, pound-for-pound

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