According to the Times Higher Education magazine, the reputation of UK universities is already suffering from the onslaught of immense government cuts and trebled tuition fees. The rankings, compiled annually, rate universities worldwide according to their ‘reputation’ for academic excellence. The table, formed from the opinions of 17,000 academics, is an accurate indicator of the general perception of universities amongst the global academic community. This year it shows that international confidence in the academic excellence of British universities is already on the slide.
Whilst Cambridge and Oxford Universities predictably manage to hang on to their third and sixth places respectively, no other UK universities feature in the top 10 and others that managed to reach the top 100 last year have slid rapidly down the rankings. This trend seems to confirm UK academics’ fears that whilst the budget cuts and tuition fees chaos would not affect the robust reputation of the elite Oxbridge two, other universities would not escape unscathed. In total just 10 UK universities remain in the top 100.
London universities fared particularly badly, with Imperial College London and University College London both slipping down the rankings, whilst elsewhere the Universities of Bristol and Edinburgh, well respected in the UK, also fell to lower places. Meanwhile, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Sheffield both dropped so low that they exited the rankings altogether.
Chinese and Japanese universities leapt up the rankings along with several European countries such as Germany, whose higher education institutions have gone from strength to strength. The general consensus of academics analysing the table has been that these successful climbers owe their progress to increased investment in higher education, such as the German government’s ‘excellence initiative’. Meanwhile UK analysts painted a bleak picture of future academic prospects, with Wendy Piatt, director general of the elite Russell Group of universities pointing to budget cuts and the coalition government’s higher education policy as the reasons for our poor performance.
Piatt told the Times Higher Education guide that “our global competitors…are pumping billions into higher education, and money really matters.” Other respected academic figures agreed, with University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt warning that “secure and sustained funding” will be desperately needed by UK universities if they are to maintain their position alongside their global competitors.