Best universities in the UK 2018

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 5 2017
University of Oxford, University Church of St Mary the Virgin

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 93 best UK universities and colleges, according to the trusted Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018.

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.


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

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

Of the 93 top universities in the UK, around 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.


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Top 5 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; on average it receives around five applications for each available place.

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 Gandhi 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.

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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. 

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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 15,200 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.

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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. 

London features in the 2017 Best University Cities

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 Justice, Lincoln’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

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Top universities in the UK 2018

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2018 results 

UK Rank 2018 World University Rank 2018 Institution City/Town
1 1 University of Oxford Oxford
2 2 University of Cambridge Cambridge
3 8 Imperial College London London
4 16 University College London London
5 =25 London School of Economics and Political Science London
6 =27 University of Edinburgh Edinburgh
7 36 King’s College London London
8 =54 University of Manchester Manchester
9 76 University of Bristol Bristol
10 =80 University of Glasgow Glasgow
11 91 University of Warwick Coventry
12 97 Durham University Durham
13 104 University of Sheffield Sheffield
14 121 Queen Mary University of London London
15 =126 University of Southampton Southampton
16 =130 University of Exeter Exeter
17 =137 University of York York
18 139 University of Leeds Leeds
19 =141 University of Birmingham Birmingham
20 =143 University of St Andrews Fife
=21 =147 University of Nottingham Nottingham
=21 =147 University of Sussex Brighton
23 =150 Lancaster University Lancaster
24 =159 University of Leicester Leicester
25 =162 Cardiff University Cardiff
26 =175 Newcastle University Newcastle
27 =177 University of Liverpool Liverpool
28 185 University of Aberdeen Aberdeen
29 187 University of Dundee Dundee
30 =188 University of East Anglia Norwich
31 197 Royal Holloway, University of London London
=32 201–250 Queen’s University Belfast Belfast
=32 201–250 University of Reading Reading
=32 201–250 St George’s, University of London London
=35 251–300 University of Bath Bath
=35 251–300 University of Essex Colchester
=35 251–300 University of Surrey Guildford
=35 251–300 Swansea University Swansea
=39 301–350 Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth
=39 301–350 Anglia Ruskin University East Anglia
=39 301–350 Bangor University Bangor
=39 301–350 Birkbeck, University of London London
=39 301–350 Brighton and Sussex Medical School Brighton
=39 301–350 Goldsmiths, University of London London
=39 301–350 University of Kent Kent
=39 301–350 Loughborough University Loughborough
=39 301–350 University of Stirling Stirling
=48 351–400 Aston University Birmingham
=48 351–400 Brunel University London London
=48 351–400 City, University of London London
=48 351–400 Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh
=48 351–400 Royal Veterinary College London
=53 401–500 University of Hull Hull
=53 401–500 Middlesex University London
=53 401–500 The Open University Nationwide
=53 401–500 Oxford Brookes University Oxford
=53 401–500 Plymouth University Plymouth
=53 401–500 Soas, University of London London
=53 401–500 University of Strathclyde Glasgow
=60 501–600 University of Hertfordshire Hatfield
=60 501–600 Keele University Keele
=60 501–600 Liverpool John Moores University Liverpool
=60 501–600 Northumbria University Newcastle upon Tyne
=60 501–600 University of Portsmouth Portsmouth
=60 501–600 Ulster University Londonderry
=60 501–600 University of the West of Scotland Paisley
=67 601–800 University of Bedfordshire Luton
=67 601–800 Bournemouth University Bournemouth
=67 601–800 University of Bradford Bradford
=67 601–800 University of Brighton Brighton
=67 601–800 University of Central Lancashire Preston
=67 601–800 Coventry University Coventry
=67 601–800 De Montfort University Leicester
=67 601–800 University of East London London
=67 601–800 Edinburgh Napier University Edinburgh
=67 601–800 Glasgow Caledonian University Glasgow
=67 601–800 University of Greenwich London
=67 601–800 University of Huddersfield Huddersfield
=67 601–800 Kingston University London
=67 601–800 Leeds Beckett University Leeds
=67 601–800 University of Lincoln Lincoln
=67 601–800 Manchester Metropolitan University Manchester
=67 601–800 Nottingham Trent University Nottingham
=67 601–800 University of Roehampton London
=67 601–800 University of Salford Manchester
=67 601–800 University of South Wales Pontypridd
=67 601–800 Teesside University Middlesborough
=67 601–800 University of the West of England Bristol
=67 601–800 University of Westminster London
=90 801–1000 University of Derby Derby
=90 801–1000 London South Bank University London
=90 801–1000 Robert Gordon University Aberdeen
=90 801–1000 Sheffield Hallam University Sheffield

Read more: Best universities in the United States

Reader's comments (1)

Dear editors, I notice under your heading above "Choosing a UK University," you have a link to Universities in Ireland. This is misleading, as none of those listed are in the UK. You also have a link to Universities in Europe. Maybe a better title for this whole section would be 'Choosing a University' or "Choosing a University in Europe" which (at least pre-Brexit) includes all of the above.

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