The United Kingdom is known for having some of the best schools in the world, with UK universities regularly appearing at the top of global universities rankings lists. This blog will highlight some of the top universities across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. While there is no definitive ranking system for universities (different ranking organizations order them differently) the schools found below are those which consistently rank at the top of most international and domestic (UK) lists. Factors which influence a school’s international ranking include the caliber of its faculty, the quality of its various research institutions, and post-graduate jobs placement. In general, selectivity in admission’s is correlated with academic rigor; the lower the acceptance rate, the higher the school’s ranking. It is these factors which make the United Kingdom a leader in global university education: its universities hire the world’s best faculty who uphold the highest academic standards to produce the most educated and skilled graduates. Students who matriculate through UK universities go on to become leaders of countries and global industries, at the top of their fields in business, law, medicine, and the arts. The schools here are not listed here in any particular order but are grouped according to UK countries.
The most well-known universities in the United Kingdom are located in England; some in towns outside the capital, many in London. The country’s two most famous universities, Oxford and Cambridge, are so similar that they are referred to jointly as Oxbridge (undergraduates cannot apply to both universities in the same year). There are innumerable advantages to attending school in England. Most students in England live in or near London, (one of the world’s financial and cultural capitals), attend an English-language university, and enjoy proximity to France, Germany, and the rest of the European Continent.
University of Oxford
- The oldest university in the UK (and one of the oldest in the world), Oxford today is a thoroughly modern educational institution. Ranked by many evaluators as the world’s top university, Oxford consistently ranks as the world’s number one school for computer science and clinical health, and is a top five school for other major programs including business and economics, law, engineering, social sciences, and life sciences. The university’s research facilities are equally world-class, drawing researchers from all over the world to its state-of the art laboratories and facilities. Located outside of London in the town that bears its name, Oxford’s campus is incredibly historic, with libraries and dormitories dating from the medieval period. The school has produced innumerable famous graduates, including 30 of the United Kingdom’s Prime Ministers: more than any other university. After centuries of educating the country’s social and political elite, admissions today at Oxford have been democratized, with academic excellence being the main requirement for acceptance. With an admissions rate of under 10% for international students, would-be Oxonians indicate their preference for one of the university’s 30 separate colleges when applying as undergraduates.
University of Cambridge
- Almost as old and equally as prestigious as Oxford, Cambridge is similarly located about an hour outside of London, on an historic campus with centuries of history. Cambridge is ranked among the top three universities in the world; when it comes to Arts and Humanities, Education, Law, Life sciences, Physical sciences, and Psychology, Cambridge often ranks higher than Oxford. Cambridge is the second largest producer of British Prime Ministers (14 to Oxford’s 30). 120 Cambridge students and faculty have won the Nobel Prize; more than any other university except Harvard. The acceptance rate at Cambridge for international students is around 20%. The university’s 29 colleges dominate the city of Cambridge, which smaller than Oxford but arguably more charming
University College London
- Ranked among the 10 best universities in the world, University College London (UCL), is located in the center of London; the UK’s largest and most vibrant city. The biggest school in London in terms of student population, UCL offers over academic degree programs to its almost 20,000 graduates and 21,000 postgrads. A highly ranked research institution, UCL offers top ranked programs in the humanities.
London School of Economics
- Projected to rank as the number one university in the English capital next year, LSE has about half the amount of undergradute students as Oxbridge and UCL, which it is a college of. With an extremely international student body (the vast majority—70%—hail from outside of Great Britain), LSE offers more than 40 degrees in the social sciences.
Imperial College London
- Imperial College is world-renowned for its medicine, engineering, business, and science programs, placing the university among the top 10 in many global university rankings. Highly selective, its undergraduate admission’s rate is around 14%.
There are just under 20 universities in Scotland; most of which are in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews. Scotland is beautiful and diverse, with thousands of years of history; people come from around the world to experience Scottish culture.
University of Edinburgh
- With over 32,000 students, Edinburgh is the largest university in Scotland and the most known internationally. One of the top 50 world universities, Edinburgh ranks among the five best research institutions in the entire UK. Edinburgh itself is a diverse, historic city. The stunning Scottish countryside surrounding it offers a picturesque, rural retreat from the sophisticated capital. The city’s iconic cobblestone streets and castles draw thousands of foreign students (it’s among the 20 most international universities in the world).
University of Saint Andrews
- St. Andrews is defined by its elite reputation, international student population, and relatively small student body. With around 8,400 undergraduates, the school is notoriously selective. Some organizations have ranked St. Andrews higher than Oxbridge in recent years; a fact which speaks to the university’s dominance in subjects like Art History, English, Economics, and Neuroscience. The oldest Scottish university, St. Andrews is located in the historic town, which bears its name.
Wales and Northern Ireland
Foreign students looking for a unique, less traditional UK experience may wish to consider universities in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Small but culturally significant, Wales offers international students an exciting opportunity to study at one of its eight universities. Its best known is the University of Cardiff. Located in the Welsh capital, Cardiff is impressively ranked as the 20th in the UK in terms of research quality and also places among the 160 best schools in the world. With over 23,000 undergraduate students, Cardiff offers its diverse student body the opportunity to select from among 300 courses; many of which are offered in Welsh.
The smallest and least populous country in the UK, Northern Ireland hosts just three universities. The most academically prestigious is Queens University Belfast, which has consistently ranked among the world’s top 200 universities.