World university rankings
The University of Oxford retains its position as the world's best university, but other British institutions follow a downward trend. Source: Shutterstock

The University of Oxford in the UK has retained its position at the top in the latest Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2020 for the fourth year in a row.

The University of Cambridge was bumped down to third place, while California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has climbed up three spots into second.

American and UK universities continue to cement themselves among the global elite, with universities from both countries dominating the top 10.

The top 10: THE World University Rankings 2020

2020 rank 2019 rank University Country
1 1 University of Oxford UK
2 5 California Institute of Technology (Caltech) US
3 2 University of Cambridge UK
4 3 Stanford University US
5 4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) US
6 7 Princeton University US
7 6 Harvard University US
8 8 Yale University US
9 10 University of Chicago US
10 9 Imperial College London UK

The report also notes that Asian universities are catching up, with China and Japan boasting a strong performance in the rankings.

China’s Tsinghua University and Peking University are Asia’s top two universities, ranked 23rd and 24th respectively. Singapore’s National University of Singapore (NUS) comes in at 25th.

The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are the only Japanese universities in the top 100, ranked joint 36th and 65th respectively.

Other findings include:

  • ETH Zurich is the only university outside of North America and the UK to make it into the top 20, coming in joint 13th.
  • The University of Toronto is Canada’s top university, ranked 18th globally, and is the only Canadian university to make the top 20. 
  • The University of Melbourne is Australia’s top university, ranked joint 32nd.
  • A THE analysis of five years’ of data reveals a consistent downward trend for UK universities. In 2016, 34 UK universities featured in the top 200 (compared with 28 this year), of which 26 have since declined – largely due to universities in other countries improving at a faster rate.
  • The analysis adds that Germany has boosted the number of institutions in the top 200 from 3 to 23 in the same period; alongside China, which grew from five to seven; and Australia, from 3 to 11.

The ranking, released on September 11, includes almost 1,400 universities from 92 countries, standing as the largest and most diverse university rankings to date. 

Institutions were measured against 13 performance indicators across the areas of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

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