Best universities in the world

Find the world’s top universities 2021 using the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings data

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September 2 2020
Best universities in the world 2018

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The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, released on 2 September 2020, has revealed the world’s top universities. 

A UK institution has taken the top spot: the University of Oxford. There is now a new world number two, with Stanford University climbing two places from last year.

In total, 93 countries or regions are represented in the ranking and 27 of these have at least one university in the top 200.


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Both in terms of the overall ranking and the highest positions, the US and the UK are well represented. Japan and China are among the best represented countries in the ranking but they fall behind other nations, such as Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, for universities in the top 200.

The results are calculated using 13 performance indicators underlying five metrics: research, teaching, research influence, industry income and international outlook. The full methodology can be found here.


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Top 5 universities in the world 2021

1. University of Oxford

One of the most prestigious universities in the UK has come out on top for the fifth year running.

The University of Oxford is the UK’s oldest university and one of the best known in the world.

There are more than 20,000 students at Oxford, with a roughly equal number of undergraduates and postgraduates.

About 95 per cent of Oxford graduates are employed or in postgraduate study within six months of completing their studies.

Admission is extremely competitive; on average the university receives five applications for every place. 

The university employs staff from just under 100 countries and foreign citizens make up about 40 per cent of the student and academic body.

Dispelling the myths around elite universities 

2. Stanford University

Stanford University has produced many entrepreneurs and start-ups and was partly responsible for the development of the surrounding Silicon Valley.

Many students go on to achieve great things; 17 Nobel laureates are affiliated with Stanford.

The large campus is home to 97 per cent of undergraduates and nearly 700 university buildings, alongside museums, gardens and recreational centres.

There are just under 7,000 undergraduates and 9,000 postgraduates at the university, with a 7:4 student-to-staff ratio.

Research at Stanford has a $1.22 billion budget and more than 5,000 of the projects are externally funded.

The 10 most beautiful universities in the US 

3. Harvard University

Harvard University finds itself back in the top five this year, climbing four places from number seven last year. 

It is one of the most prestigious universities in the world and has topped the Times Higher Education Reputation Ranking for nine consecutive years. It is also part of the Ivy League, a group of eight private universities in the US, which are highly regarded. 

Established in 1636, it is the oldest university in the country. 

The institution is connected to more than 45 Nobel laureates, at least 30 heads of state and 48 Pulitzer prizewinners. Thirteen US presidents have honorary degrees from the institution; the most recent of these was awarded to John F. Kennedy in 1956.

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4. California Institute of Technology

One of the most striking features of Caltech is its small size; only about 1,000 undergraduates and 1,250 postgraduates are enrolled there. The college boasts a high student-to-staff ratio.

Caltech aims to foster an interdisciplinary environment in which students learn about and tackle the most challenging and fundamental scientific or technological problems.

The institution was founded as Throop University in 1891. It assumed its current name in 1920.

There were 6,506 applicants for the entry class graduating in 2019 and 99 per cent of the students accepted across all years were in the top 10 per cent of their high school class.

More than half of Caltech students receive need-based financial support. The average financial aid package is $38,983.

Caltech’s mascot is a beaver, “nature’s engineer”.

Among the unusual features of the institution are the customary cookie break taken every Thursday by physicists and their students, and the university’s status as a distributor of olive oil.

Caltech: ‘uniquely difficult but a wonderful place to study’

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was founded in the mid-19th century and has always endeavoured to provide financial aid to students on a needs basis.

The first architecture classes in the US were taught at MIT. The first female student, Ellen Swallow Richards, was admitted to the chemistry department in 1871.

Just two years later, the first international student – from Canada – graduated from MIT.

The campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, includes 18 student residences, many gardens and public works of art.

Admission to the university is extremely selective; only 8 per cent of applicants won a place in the graduating class of 2019.

Graduates are employed by top companies, including Google, Amazon and Apple.

Women in STEM: stories from MIT students


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Top 200 universities in the world 2021

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2021 results

 World University Rank 2021   World University Rank 2020  University Country/region
 1   1  University of Oxford United Kingdom
 2   4  Stanford University United States
 3   7  Harvard University United States
 4   2  California Institute of Technology United States
 5   5  Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
 6   3  University of Cambridge United Kingdom
 7   =13  University of California, Berkeley United States
 8   8  Yale University United States
 9   6  Princeton University United States
 10   9  The University of Chicago United States
 11   10  Imperial College London United Kingdom
 12   12  Johns Hopkins University United States
 13   11  University of Pennsylvania United States
 14   =13  ETH Zurich Switzerland
 15   17  University of California, Los Angeles United States
 16   15  UCL United Kingdom
 17   16  Columbia University United States
 18   18  University of Toronto Canada
 19   19  Cornell University United States
 =20   20  Duke University United States
 =20   23  Tsinghua University China
 22   21  University of Michigan-Ann Arbor United States
 23   24  Peking University China
 24   22  Northwestern University United States
 25   25  National University of Singapore Singapore
 26   29  New York University United States
 27   =27  London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom
 28   =27  Carnegie Mellon University United States
 29   26  University of Washington United States
 30   30  University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
 31   =32  University of Melbourne Australia
 32   =32  LMU Munich Germany
 33   31  University of California, San Diego United States
 34   34  University of British Columbia Canada
 35   =36  King’s College London United Kingdom
 =36   41  Karolinska Institute Sweden
 =36   =36  The University of Tokyo Japan
 38   =38  Georgia Institute of Technology United States
 39   35  University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 40   42  McGill University Canada
 41   43  Technical University of Munich Germany
 42   44  Heidelberg University Germany
 43   =38  École  Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
 44   =38  University of Texas at Austin United States
 45   =45  KU Leuven Belgium
 46   =45  Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
 47   =48  Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
 48   =48  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
 49   51  University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
 50   52  Washington University in St Louis United States
 =51   =55  University of Manchester United Kingdom
 =51   60  University of Sydney Australia
 53   =62  University of Southern California United States
 =54   61  Boston University United States
 =54   65  Kyoto University Japan
 =56   =57  Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 =56   47  The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
 =56   54  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
 59   50  Australian National University Australia
 60   64  Seoul National University South Korea
 61   53  Brown University United States
 =62   66  The University of Queensland Australia
 =62   59  Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
 =64   =55  University of California, Davis United States
 =64   =75  Monash University Australia
 66   =62  University of Amsterdam Netherlands
 67   71  UNSW Sydney Australia
 68   =57  University of California, Santa Barbara United States
 69   72  McMaster University Canada
 =70   109  Fudan University China
 =70   =67  Leiden University Netherlands
 72   69  Erasmus University Rotterdam Netherlands
 =73   85  University of Montreal Canada
 =73   90  University of Zurich Switzerland
 =75   =80  Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin Germany
 =75   =75  Utrecht University Netherlands
 77   77  University of Warwick United Kingdom
 =78   =67  Delft University of Technology Netherlands
 =78   =91  University of Tübingen Germany
 =80   73  University of Groningen Netherlands
 =80   74  Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
 =80   70  Ohio State University (Main campus) United States
 83   86  University of Freiburg Germany
 84   101  University of Copenhagen Denmark
 =85   =80  Emory University United States
 =85   79  University of Minnesota United States
 =87   93  École Polytechnique France
 =87   =80  University of Science and Technology of China China
 =87   =80  Sorbonne University France
 90   =91  University of Maryland, College Park United States
 91   87  University of Bristol United Kingdom
 =92   =94  University of Basel Switzerland
 =92   =99  University of Glasgow United Kingdom
 =94   88  Purdue University West Lafayette United States
 =94   =107  Zhejiang University China
 96   =110  Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
 97   =120  National Taiwan University (NTU) Taiwan
 =98   =96  University of California, Irvine United States
 =98   =96  University of Helsinki Finland
 100   =157  Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
 =101   =94  Dartmouth College United States
 =101   89  Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
 =103   123  Ghent University Belgium
 =103   =96  Lund University Sweden
 105   84  Michigan State University United States
 106   115  Aarhus University Denmark
 =107   112  University of Birmingham United Kingdom
 =107   =99  RWTH Aachen University Germany
 109   =113  University of Bern Switzerland
 110   =110  Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom
 =111   =144  Nanjing University China
 =111   =102  Uppsala University Sweden
 =111   116  Vanderbilt University United States
 =114   =105  University of Bonn Germany
 =114   78  Penn State (Main campus) United States
 116   138  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
 117   =107  University of Virginia (Main campus) United States
 =118   =120  University of Adelaide Australia
 =118   =117  Free University of Berlin Germany
 120   =102  Georgetown University United States
 =121   119  Case Western Reserve University United States
 =121   127  Maastricht University Netherlands
 =121   =117  University of Sheffield United Kingdom
 =124   104  University of Arizona United States
 =124   =105  Rice University United States
 126   126  City University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 =127   =131  University of Oslo Norway
 =127   122  University of Southampton United Kingdom
 129   171  Hong Kong Polytechnic University Hong Kong
 130   125  University of Göttingen Germany
 =131   =136  University of Alberta Canada
 =131   124  University of Colorado Boulder United States
 =133   =113  University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus United States
 =133   =128  University of York United Kingdom
 135   =149  University of Hamburg Germany
 =136   =139  Lancaster University United Kingdom
 =136   130  University of Paris France
 =136   =128  Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands
 139   =131  The University of Western Australia Australia
 =140   =134  Indiana University United States
 =140   =157  University of Mannheim Germany
 =140   =149  Technical University of Berlin Germany
 =140   =141  Ulm University Germany
 =140   163  University of Würzburg Germany
 =145   =157  University of Cologne Germany
 =145   =141  University of Ottawa Canada
 =147   =179  University of Auckland New Zealand
 =147   =173  University of Rochester United States
 =149   133  Durham University United Kingdom
 =149   =144  University of Geneva Switzerland
 151   =146  Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) South Korea
 =152   =175  University of Florida United States
 =152   143  Pompeu Fabra University Spain
 =152   =157  TU Dresden Germany
 =155   =136  University of Cape Town South Africa
 =155   164  Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 =155   =139  Tufts University United States
 =158   =166  Bielefeld University Germany
 =158   =152  University of Nottingham United Kingdom
 =160   =155  University of Leeds United Kingdom
 =160   =146  University of Sussex United Kingdom
 =160   =194  University of Technology Sydney Australia
 163   165  University of Liverpool United Kingdom
 =164   =152  Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
 =164   =134  University of Vienna Austria
 166   =168  Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey United States
 =167   =168  University of Bologna Italy
 =167   =179  Korea University South Korea
 169   172  University of Alabama at Birmingham United States
 =170   =198  University of Antwerp Belgium
 =170   =166  University of Leicester United Kingdom
 =170   =157  University of Notre Dame United States
 =170   =149  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Italy
 =174   =146  University of Exeter United Kingdom
 =174   =189  Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
 =176   =173  Northeastern University United States
 =176   201–250  Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) South Korea
 =178   =168  University of Aberdeen United Kingdom
 =178   201–250  Newcastle University United Kingdom
 =178   NR  Paris-Saclay University  France
 181   =152  Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Italy
 182   =157  Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain
 183   =175  Stockholm University Sweden
 =184   =155  Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
 =184   193  University of Canberra Australia
 186   =179  Queensland University of Technology Australia
 =187   =186  Eindhoven University of Technology Netherlands
 =187   =198  George Washington University United States
 =187   =184  Technical University of Denmark Denmark
 =187   197  Yonsei University (Seoul campus) South Korea
 =191   =198  Cardiff University United Kingdom
 =191   =186  University of Gothenburg Sweden
 =191   =198  University of Lausanne Switzerland
 =191   =189  Tel Aviv University Israel
 =195   201–250  Macquarie University Australia
 =195   =189  University of Münster Germany
 197   178  Texas A&M University United States
 =198   201–250  University of Barcelona Spain
 =198   183  University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Germany
 =200   201–250  University of Calgary Canada
 =200   192  University of East Anglia United Kingdom
 =200   201–250  Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom

Read more: Most international universities in the world

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