THE World University Rankings 2016/17: Oxford dethrones Caltech to become first UK university to clinch #1 spot

The University of Oxford is the first UK university to be crowned the best globally in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2016-2017, knocking five-time champion, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), down to 2nd place.

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding Brexit, Oxford bested other universities based on the rankings’ four main indicators: teaching, research, citations, and international outlook.

According to THE, the institution’s total income and research income is increasing faster than its staff numbers, its research is more prominent, and it has been more successful at attracting international talent.

Here are the top 10 institutions in the rankings:


Screenshot via Times Higher Education.


But Louise Richardson, Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, said that maintaining its position as one of the best universities in the world is “really quite simple”: it comes down to recruiting the best talent.

“Any university is only as good as the academics it can attract. The best academics attract other top academics as well as smart early career academics. They attract the best students and the most competitive research funding, so it really is a virtuous circle.

“The key is for universities to provide an environment in which these academics are valued, in which young academics are supported and in which all are free to set their own research agendas,” she said.


Marty Schmidt, the Provost of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), concurred with Richardson, saying that his institution’s focus on attracting top talent and its international community – 42 percent of its faculty were born outside the U.S. – were two key reasons for its strong research influence.

He added that the main factor, however, was down to its interdisciplinary approach, which is cultivated through interdepartmental laboratories, shared facilities, and initiatives centred on global problems.

“Working across disciplinary boundaries, working in a collaborative way, allows our faculty and our students to see opportunities that you might not otherwise see if you are working in a disciplinary silo,” he said.

Other than Oxford’s unprecedented move into the top slot, the top 10 institutions remain almost the same, with the exception of the University of California, Berkeley, which broke into the top 10, sharing the 10th spot with the University of Chicago.


However, Asian universities are on the rise: two Asian universities – Chinese University of Hong Kong and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) – have made their debut in the top 100, while four more have joined the top 200 (City University of Hong Kong, University of Science and Technology of China, Fudan University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University).

The National University of Singapore remains Asia’s top-ranked institution and has made gains, placing 24th – its highest ranking yet.

Two of China’s top universities have also gone up in the rankings – Peking University is now in 29th place, up from the 42nd spot it held last year, while Tsinghua University has made the top 40, placing 35th from its previous position at 47th.

Overall, 289 Asian institutions from 24 countries made the overall list of 980 institutions, with 19 in the top 200 – an increase from 15 last year.


On a country-by-country level, Singapore achieved the highest average scores across all five of the rankings’ pillars – teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook – with the Netherlands and Hong Kong taking 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.

But when looking at which countries are the most represented in the top 200, the top five nations are: the U.S. (63 institutions), UK (32), Germany (22), the Netherlands (13), and Canada (8).

Rajika Bhandari, deputy vice-president of research and evaluation at the Institute of International Education, attributed Asia’s “sharp rise” in higher education to three factors: rapidly growing populations and demand for higher education in the region; governments making “significant investments” in universities; and improvements by individual institutions.


She added that many of the Asian academics who studied at institutions in the West are now helping to shape and transform the higher education sector back in their home countries.

They have “brought back to [their] home campuses some of the teaching values of critical thinking and liberal education, as well as the idea of promotion based on merit and research outputs”, said Bhandari, as quoted by THE.

She also foresees more partnerships being forged between universities in Asia and the West, as well as a “huge push towards intra-regional higher education partnerships and mobility within the Asia-Pacific region”.

You can browse the full rankings here.

Image via Unsplash

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