The CWTS Leiden Rankings 2014 serves to evaluate the scientific excellence of 750 of the world’s top universities, but for the United Kingdom the diagnosis isn’t good. The Leiden Ranking 2014 reveals the UK lagging behind its American counterpart in the field of research citations. In many circles the Leiden ranking is highly respected: it is one of the only tables to solely reflect the impact of academic excellence. Hosted by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, this year’s table once again finds the top flight dominated by US universities, with only the UK, Switzerland, and Israel making the top 50. 

By harnessing an intricate bibliometric approach, the Leiden rankings allow both prospective students and job-seeking academics the chance to survey the scientific horizon for the leading lights. With a rigorous methodology, both the impact of scientific research and the extent to which collaboration occurs are mapped in accordance with the Web of Science-indexed publications. In terms of university ranking consultancies, centres, and initiatives, this study is often imitated but rarely equaled. Advanced, thorough, and exhaustive, any possibility that the data could be distorted is quickly nipped in the bud by the research team who eagerly exclude sources and literature that doesn’t meet the standard.

But despite this broad consensus of rigorousness and respectability, the Lieden Rankings are invariably dominated by the US. Rather than displaying marked bias, the fault lies in the sole foundation of their ranking system. Due to the strict guidelines on citation impact, the prevalence and control to which the US academic field leads, and the disproportionate number of English-language publications, means that universities churning out high-quality students and faculty in that tongue will always have the edge. The Times Higher Education ranking manages to balance this by making research citations merely a composite indicator, allowing for diversity and variation.

The Lieden 2014 top 10 for the UK is as follows, with international position stated in brackets:


1 (19) University of Cambridge

2 (23) London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

3 (24) University of Oxford

4 (33) Imperial College London

5 (39) University of St Andrews

6 (41) University College London

7 (45) King’s College London

8 (49) University of Bristol

9 (52) Queen Mary – University of London

10 (58) University of Exeter


In the wider global rankings Cambridge comes only 19th, with every single one of the higher entrants USA universities. So what is the real reason that the elite UK institutions fail to make their mark on the world Lieden Rankings? In many other tables British universities are often the focus rather than the lagging runner-up. With noticeable ambiguity those responsible for the Lieden Rankings leave the interpretation up to those for which it is intended. For those prospective students who like to access information through visualisations, keyword mapping, and other such data journalism tools, the Lieden Rankings provide accessible ways to view their metrics. Using these data maps students and academics have the chance to visualise the overlap and crossover inherent in their fields, and view how the structure of each particular scientific discipline is perceived across universities and nations. Maybe someone can make a visualisation to explain the frustration of the UK’s best and brightest?