Best universities in the UK 2017

The University of Oxford is top in a list of the best universities in the UK, which includes institutions in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
September 21 2016

What are the top universities in the UK? If you want to study in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, which universities should you consider?

This UK university league table reveals the 91 best UK universities and colleges, according to the trusted Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017.

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge take the top two spots in this ranking of best British universities, while some of the best universities in London complete the top five.


Resources: choosing a university

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Three universities in Scotland appear in the top 25: the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow and the University of St Andrews, while the best university in Wales is Cardiff University, ranked just inside the top 30.

For students looking to study in Northern Ireland, the best university in the ranking is Queen’s University Belfast.

Of the 91 top universities in the UK, more than 20 are in London, including well-known institutions such as Imperial College London and University College London, and more recently established universities such as the University of Westminster and the University of Greenwich.


Resources: applying to a UK university

- Guide to visas and funding to study in the UK
- Apply to UK universities through Ucas as an international student
- Results of the UK Student Experience Survey 2016


Top 5 universities in the UK

Scroll down to view the full table of the best universities in the UK

1. University of Oxford

One of the most prestigious universities in the world, and one of the oldest, the University of Oxford attracts top scholars and students to its 44 colleges and halls. Entry standards are high and admissions are competitive; in 2015 there were 18,000 undergraduate applications for only 3,200 places, and 24,000 postgraduate applications for 5,200 places.

As is common in the UK, the university offers a number of joint honours programmes that combine two subjects at undergraduate level. In total, there are 250 different undergraduate degree combinations. The combination of philosophy, politics and economics is a particularly prestigious degree course on offer, although it is no longer unique to the University of Oxford.

Undergraduates and postgraduates belong to a college and often live in the college building or college-owned accommodation. Social life and recreational activities – such as rowing, cultural events and shared-interest societies – also revolve around the college. Undergraduates are taught almost exclusively by tutors in their college, while postgraduate students are primarily served academically by a centralised faculty.

There are more than 100 libraries in Oxford, the most famous of which is the Bodleian, built in 1602. The small town also boasts a number of museums, including the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which houses the remains of a dodo, and the Museum of the History of Science, which displays a blackboard used by Albert Einstein. 

More than 30 world leaders, 26 British prime ministers, 26 Nobel prizewinners and more than 120 Olympic medallists were educated at Oxford. Stephen Hawking, Hugh Grant and Indira Ghandi are among the most famous alumni.

Within six months of graduating from the university, 95 per cent of Oxford students are in employment or further study.

Applying to Oxford? Here’s how to pass the Oxford admissions interview

2. University of Cambridge

Like Oxford, the University of Cambridge is fundamentally collegiate and is also one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. The town is based just an hour’s drive from London. 

The university is home to more than 18,000 students and 9,000 staff. There are 31 colleges, some of which date back to the 13th century, and more than 100 academic departments.

Cambridge is particularly renowned for excellence in mathematics and has educated some of the most famous British scientists throughout history. In total, there have been 92 Nobel prizes awarded to academics affiliated to the university and Cambridge-affiliated mathematicians have won a number of Fields Medals.

Getting a place at the university as an undergraduate is extremely competitive; the acceptance rate is less than 25 per cent and more than half of rejected candidates go on to receive A grades for all their final school exams.

Undergraduates are taught in lectures and supervisions – intimate tutorials with only a couple of other students at most. The workload is heavy but terms are shorter than at many other universities in the UK.

Cambridge libraries are home to extensive collections of medieval manuscripts and the university museums display collections of archaeological artefacts and zoological specimens. 

Notable graduates include actors, politicians, royals, sportsmen and sportswomen and cultural figures. 

3. Imperial College London

Imperial College London is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the world for science, technology, engineering, medicine and business.

It was formed in 1907 from a merger of three colleges in London and now has 14,700 students and 8,000 staff. The student cohort is extremely international and is made up of more than 125 nationalities.

In addition to top scientists, Fields medallists and Nobel prizewinners, Imperial also produces influential government advisers and policymakers. Many graduates go on to achieve breakthrough innovations in industry and business, and are highly sought after by blue chip companies and start-ups.

Imperial is based next to Kensington Palace in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with other campuses around the city. 

The author H. G. Wells and Sir Liam Donaldson, head physician to the Queen, are among Imperial’s famous alumni.

4. University College London

University College London (UCL) was the first university in England to admit students irrespective of class, race or religion, and the first to admit women on equal terms with men, following the educational philosophy of Jeremy Bentham – the university’s “spiritual founder”.

It is one of the most selective British universities, ranking highly in college league tables, and it is thought to produce some of the most employable graduates. 

UCL’s main campus is in the central London area of Bloomsbury. 

For undergraduate admission, candidates generally have all A grades at A level or a grade equivalent of 6, 6, 6 in subjects studied at higher level in the International Baccalaureate. The most competitive degree is the BSc in philosophy, politics and economics, which receives 30 applicants for every place. 

Close to half of all UCL students are from outside the UK, with significantly more from Asia than from continental Europe. Famous alumni include Mahatma Gandhi; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who met the other members of his band at the university. 

5. London School of Economics and Political Science

Of all UK universities, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has the highest proportion of international students, at 70 per cent. 

The university has particular strengths in law, economics, history, philosophy and politics. Currently, 26 per cent of all Nobel prizes for economics were awarded to alumni or affiliates of the LSE. Famously, economic theorists at the LSE have long disputed with theorists at Cambridge, particularly over solutions to economic problems in society.

LSE’s campus is in the Clare Market area, close to important institutions including the Royal Courts of JusticeLincoln’s Inn, the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Museum.

In 2014, the university received 17,000 undergraduate applications for 1,500 places. Like other top universities in the UK, the LSE generally requires entry standards of A grades or higher.

Many of the postgraduate courses, such as in those in economics, management and law, have an acceptance rate of less than 7 per cent.

Prominent cultural, political and academic figures, including Nelson Mandela and George Soros, have given public lectures at the LSE as part of the university’s prestigious lecture series.

The main architect of the Indian constitution, B.R. Ambedkar, worked on a doctoral thesis at the LSE while enrolled on the Bar course at Gray’s Inn in London.

Hear from an international postgraduate studying at the London School of Economics


Resources: study in London

- How to settle into university in London
- Blog: a day in the life of a UK university student
- Where can you get value for money to study in Europe?


Best universities in the UK 2017

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2016-2017 results

UK rank 2017 World University rank 2017 University
1 1 University of Oxford
2 4 University of Cambridge
3 8 Imperial College London
4 15 University College London
5 =25 London School of Economics and Political Science
6 27 University of Edinburgh
7 =36 King’s College London
8 55 University of Manchester
9 71 University of Bristol
10 =82 University of Warwick
11 88 University of Glasgow
12 =96 Durham University
13 109 University of Sheffield
14 =110 University of St Andrews
15 =113 Queen Mary University of London
16 =121 University of Southampton
17 =126 University of Exeter
18 129 University of York
19 130 University of Birmingham
20 133 University of Leeds
21 =137 Lancaster University
22 147 University of Nottingham
23 149 University of Sussex
24 158 University of Liverpool
25 =165 University of East Anglia
26 172 University of Leicester
27 =173 Royal Holloway, University of London
28 =180 University of Dundee
29 =182 Cardiff University
30 =188 University of Aberdeen
31 =190 Newcastle University
32 =192 University of Reading
=33 201-250 Birkbeck, University of London
=33 201-250 Queen’s University Belfast
=33 201-250 St George’s, University of London
=36 251-300 University of Bath
=36 251-300 University of Surrey
=38 301-350 Aberystwyth University
=38 301-350 Anglia Ruskin University
=38 301-350 Bangor University
=38 301-350 Brunel University London
=38 301-350 University of Essex
=38 301-350 Goldsmiths, University of London
=38 301-350 University of Kent
=38 301-350 Loughborough University
=38 301-350 Royal Veterinary College
=38 301-350 University of Stirling
=38 301-350 Swansea University
=49 351-400 Aston University
=49 351-400 City University London
=49 351-400 Plymouth University
=52 401-500 Heriot-Watt University
=52 401-500 Keele University
=52 401-500 The Open University
=52 401-500 Oxford Brookes University
=52 401-500 University of Portsmouth
=52 401-500 Soas, University of London
=52 401-500 University of Strathclyde
=59 501-600 University of Hertfordshire
=59 501-600 University of Hull
=59 501-600 Liverpool John Moores University
=59 501-600 Middlesex University
=59 501-600 Ulster University
=64 601-800 University of Bedfordshire
=64 601-800 Bournemouth University
=64 601-800 University of Bradford
=64 601-800 University of Brighton
=64 601-800 University of Central Lancashire
=64 601-800 Coventry University
=64 601-800 De Montfort University
=64 601-800 University of East London
=64 601-800 Edinburgh Napier University
=64 601-800 Glasgow Caledonian University
=64 601-800 University of Greenwich
=64 601-800 University of Huddersfield
=64 601-800 Kingston University
=64 601-800 Leeds Beckett University
=64 601-800 University of Lincoln
=64 601-800 London Metropolitan University
=64 601-800 Manchester Metropolitan University
=64 601-800 Northumbria University
=64 601-800 Nottingham Trent University
=64 601-800 University of Roehampton
=64 601-800 University of Salford
=64 601-800 Teesside University
=64 601-800 University of the West of England
=64 601-800 University of the West of Scotland
=64 601-800 University of Westminster
=89 801+ London South Bank University
=89 801+ Robert Gordon University
=89 801+ Sheffield Hallam University

Resources: explore rankings by subject

- Best universities for arts and humanities
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