A new international ranking has selected the top UK Universities for arts and humanities subjects compared with other top universities worldwide. The study was compiled by Quacquarelli Symonds, a leading higher education and careers research body, and ranks the top 100 universities worldwide for philosophy, English language and literature, geography, history, linguistics and modern languages. The results reveal that Oxford and Cambridge Universities perform extremely competitively compared to their international counterparts, but the data is a little more surprising for other UK universities.


In an ironic turn of events, UK universities perform particularly poorly in English language and literature, notching up their second lowest performance scores overall in this area (the lowest is in modern languages). Whilst Oxford and Cambridge are ranked the second and third best universities in the world respectively for studying English (beaten only by Harvard), no other UK university even makes it into the top 20 for this subject. A rather poor showing for a subject many would consider the UK’s forte!

The strongest UK performance overall was in geography, where Oxford University topped the world leader board, and in each of philosophy, history and linguistics, the UK managed three universities in the top 20 worldwide. Overall the best performing university internationally was Harvard University in America, taking the top spot in the table for philosophy, history, modern languages and English language and literature.

As the data shows, Oxford and Cambridge Universities are ranked highest in the UK, followed by UCL, King’s College London and Edinburgh University making up the top 5. But looking at the wider data, it is disturbing to see how quickly the UK universities’ world rankings drop to lower and lower numbers after the initial high scores of our elite Oxbridge leaders. It is surprising to see that other highly respected UK universities like Edinburgh, UCL and Warwick are consistently ranked unimpressively around the late twenties, thirties and even forties in the world. And in three of the subjects, the UK does not even manage 10 universities in the top 50 worldwide.

At a time when government funding is being withdrawn and universities will rely on raised tuition fees from students to fund arts courses, this data is very pertinent indeed. Arts and humanities are likely to be the subjects at the highest risk of being cancelled or withdrawn, as universities will not be able to afford to continue undersubscribed courses. Protesters to the government’s tuition fees scheme have raised fears that students facing enormous postgraduate debts will be likely to flock towards more vocational courses like medicine and engineering, which guarantee a higher chance of graduate employment. So with the UK’s arts and humanities at risk, it is more essential than ever that our universities are seen to be performing competitively on the world stage.

As expected, Oxford and Cambridge seem likely to sail through without too many problems, but other UK universities may need to work harder on the humanities if they hope to follow suit.