In most global university league tables, the UK comes a comfortable second, having more institutions in the elite lists than any country except the US.
But in a new index that ranks universities by how many degrees they have awarded to the chief executives of the world’s biggest companies, UK institutions put in a much weaker showing than many of their traditional rivals.
The Times Higher Education Alma Mater Index: Global Executives 2013 ranks institutions by the number of degrees they have awarded to the top dogs of Fortune Global 500 companies.
In first position, unsurprisingly, is Harvard University, which has collectively awarded 31 degrees to 25 CEOs whose companies have a staggering combined revenue of $1.5 trillion (£1 trillion).
In second place is the University of Tokyo, followed by Stanford University. The next three positions are occupied by French institutions: École Polytechnique, HEC Paris and École Nationale d’Administration.
The UK’s top performer is the University of Oxford (21st), which has educated five Fortune Global 500 CEOs. Three other British representatives make the list: the University of Cambridge (45th), City University London (89th) and Cranfield University (92nd).
Asian universities do much better in the table than in conventional rankings, although more than half the list is made up of European or North American institutions.
Forty-seven CEOs, almost 9 per cent of the total, were educated in the rapidly developing “Bric” nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
Writing in the index supplement, Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, says that one of the advantages of doing a business course is that it creates a “close-knit group” than can be “incredibly valuable” during one’s career.
Mr King’s “eclectic” group of peers on his business administration course at the University of Bath – many of whom he is still in contact with – include Bob Wigley, chairman of electronics retailer Expansys; Russell Senior, former guitarist with the band Pulp; and broadcaster Neil Fox, commonly known as Dr Fox.