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The Best University in the World – It’s Official

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Every year, the Times Higher Education produces World University Rankings, based on teaching, research, international outlook, reputation and diverse other factors such as industry collaboration that enable them to rank the world’s leading universities into one league table, ranking no fewer than 1,258 universities across six continents.

And for the third year running, the University of Oxford has come top of the list.

The Chief Knowledge Officer at Times Higher Education (THE) said, “Oxford stands out across the board, but what sets it apart… is its exceptionally international focus. Oxford thrives, not just due to strong levels of research funding, and a remarkably intimate teaching environment, but primarily due to the talent on its campus – and there’s no doubt Oxford is a magnet for talent globally, attracting the brightest and the best students and faculty from all over the world.”

Oxford – the Times Higher Education World University Ranking’s number-one university globally.

At Oxford Royale Academy, we’re thrilled to see how well the University of Oxford – whose colleges have hosted our summer school courses since our foundation – has performed. It’s a testament to the outstanding teaching, learning and research at the university, which inspires our teaching philosophy at Oxford Royale Academy.

But it isn’t just Oxford that stands out in the THE World University Rankings. Four of Oxford Royale Academy’s other centres are also included in the top ten: the University of Cambridge in second place, Stanford University in third place, Yale in eighth place and Imperial College London in ninth place.

Cambridge comes in just behind Oxford in the World University Rankings.

What is it that makes these universities top the international league tables? The calculation is complex and split over five areas: teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income. Teaching is assessed through a reputation survey, the number of teaching staff per student, the ratio of doctorates to bachelor’s degrees (which suggests that the institution nurtures and appeals to the next generation of academics), the ratio of doctorates awarded to academic staff, and the income of the institution. Universities like Oxford and Cambridge excel here because – among other things – their staff-to-student teaching ratio in tutorials and supervisions is typically one-to-two or even one-to-one.

Research is more straightforward: this is calculated based on the same reputation survey, through research income and through research productivity, i.e. publications per staff member, adjusted to reflect the norms of different academic disciplines. Citations, another key measure of research impact, are so important that they make up a whole branch of the calculation on their own. A citation is when one academic has cited something from the work of another academic; citations demonstrate that research being published is relevant and having an impact – without them, researchers publishing work could simply be shouting into the void. The more a piece of research is cited, the more it has been shared, appreciated and built on by the international community of academics. These calculations are all adjusted to allow for the impact of universities focusing on different fields, so that universities focusing on fields with lower average numbers of citations aren’t short-changed in the rankings.

Stanford is the highest-ranking American university on the list.

It’s generally agreed that the best universities are the ones that are most welcoming and appealing to international students, staff and collaborations, which is what’s measured under international outlook. The universities represented in the top ten of the THE World University Rankings have dozens of nationalities represented among their students and staff. This is also why we at Oxford Royale Academy are so proud to have more than 135 nations represented at our summer school each year. Academics and students are mobile groups who gravitate to wherever in the world they think they can best pursue the studies and research they think is of the greatest value; they vote with their feet, so following where they go is therefore useful in identifying the world’s top universities.

Finally, industry income is an easily quantified measure of the straightforward market value of what a university produces. The sheer number of companies started by graduates of the University of Oxford – frequently on the basis of the research they undertook at the university – demonstrates the economic impact a world-class university can have.

Yale has improved on being ranked 12th in the world last year.

All of these areas in combination, weighted appropriately, make up the final ranking. For a university to be in the top ten – as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and Imperial all are – they need to excel across every single one of these areas.

And this all matters to us at Oxford Royale Academy because when the universities where our summer school courses take place excel, our students benefit too! There are lots of different reasons for this. One of the key ones is that our staff tend to come from the local universities where we’re based; when they’re the best in the world, that means our staff will reflect that level of knowledge and expertise. As anyone who’s attended an ORA summer school course knows, it’s not just about our teaching staff, but also about the advice students can expect from campus and pastoral staff, which can be just as useful in guiding their university and career decisions.

Imperial, in ninth place, is the highest-ranked London university.

If you’re an ORA student who dreams of one day attending one of the best universities in the world, it’s great for you too. A summer school course at one of these top universities can help you to work out if the location and atmosphere is right for you; you can get advice on the application process from staff who’ve gone through it themselves; and you can gain a perspective on the university from living and learning there of the kind that you’d seldom get until you’re a student there yourself.

What’s more, these universities can be grand and intimidating when you visit for the first time. There’s quite a difference in arriving for the interview and feeling awed and small as a result of the majestic architecture, and arriving thinking, “oh look, that’s where we took selfies last summer!” Knowing a university before you arrive for an interview can be a tremendous boost to your confidence, one that a summer school course in one of the world’s leading universities can provide.

We’d like to congratulate the staff and students of Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and Imperial on their success!

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