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UK Universities Slip in QS World Rankings

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The annual league table, aptly named QS World Rankings, compares the world's top universities. It is followed closely by international students, particularly those from China. 

However, the latest results have not been favourable for a large proportion of UK institutions, which have slipped in their standings. The rankings are based on numerous factors, such as academic reputation, citations per faculty, and employment outcomes, to name a few.

The challenges facing university finances have been well reported and the impact on research funding and academic reputation will be negatively affecting UK institutions. 

Isolating the UK's top 4 universities, which stand above all other Russell Group institutions, Imperial College London surpassed the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford to secure second place in the global rankings. University College London (UCL) on the other hand has been unable to reverse the trend reported since 2015, having remained unchanged in 9th position. 

Source: QS Rankings

Looking beyond the top universities, the fortunes of other Russell Group institutions have been mixed, with performance varying significantly since 2020. For example, whilst Newcastle University saw a slight dip in 2025, dropping from 110th to 129th, it remains above its position of 146th recorded in 2020. At the other end of the spectrum, the University of Sheffield has been on a steady downward trajectory, falling from 78th in 2020 to 105th in 2025.

Source: QS Rankings

The chart below highlights the scale of the challenge facing the UK's most prestigious universities. In a sign they are not keeping up with the competition, 15 Russell Group universities have reported a decline in their position since 2020. The best performer over this time period was the University of Southampton, which jumped from 97th to 80th. However, Cardiff University, Queen’s Belfast and the University of York have all fallen by more than 30 positions.

Source: QS Rankings

In stark contrast to the UK, many institutions in China, including Hong Kong, have reported an improvement in their position. Peking University and Tsinghua University have broken into the top 20, whilst The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Zhejiang University are both now in the top 60 after being ranked 162nd and 144th respectively in 2015. Whilst good news for those in China wishing to study closer to home, the latest rankings highlight the challenge and risk to UK universities in attracting foreign students over the long run.

Source: QS Rankings


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