An improving post-Brexit narrative

Updated By : October 24, 2018 6:13:23 PM JST

An improving post-Brexit narrative

UK universities have experienced systemic decline over the past 18 months, as exemplified by their tumble down the tables in the QS 2018 world rankings. It is perhaps a relief, then, that the subject rankings released on 28 February show the nation’s universities to be remaining resilient.

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Ten of the 48 subject tables are led by UK institutions. No UK institution that held a world-leading status in 2017 has been overtaken by an international competitor. The University of Oxford has retained its number one status for four subjects. The University of Cambridge has taken the top spot for anthropology from Harvard. The UCL Institute of Education remains unrivalled in its field.

The University of Sussex still outranks Harvard for development studies; the Royal College of Art leads for art & design; and the University of Sheffield is number one for library and information management.

More broadly, UK universities take 34% of all top three positions across the tables, while at least one British institution can be found in the top three of 32 of the 48 rankings.

An improving post-Brexit narrative?

previous post-Brexit rankings released by QS have painted a less positive picture. Why has the narrative improved now?

Crucially, the subject rankings use a different methodology to that of the overall QS World University Rankings. The subject tables place greater emphasis on research indicators, do not take staff to student ratios into account, and exclude measures of internationalisation. This means some trends in the sector – a decline in international representation, for example – do not affect performance here.

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This is good news for UK institutions, because their research performance has changed little. Last year, when we measured citations per paper, the UK average over 1,200 ranked “subjects” was 82.00. This year, it has increased to 82.26.

Our graduate employability indicator suggests further good news for UK students. We measure the regard in which over 40,000 hiring managers at international employers hold UK graduates – and the UK’s average score has increased from 65.47 to 69.37.

Our rankings are relative, and not absolute. Although concerns about funding freezes and academic pay are unlikely to improve the UK’s reputation, performance over the last two years has to be understood in the context of broader decline in Western Europe. French institutions, for example, have seen more ranked subjects drop than rise for two consecutive years.

Global competition

Singapore, China, Malaysia, and Korea have adopted highly international strategies, funded institutions at increasing rates and improved their research practices. But improvements at Asian universities have decelerated for the first time in a number of years.

The US faces many of the same problems as UK higher education, from state funding cuts to enrolment issues. Results suggest that the US’s formerly unrivalled supremacy is diminishing – albeit slowly. The share of top three and top ten places taken by US institutions has also decreased year-on-year.

In previous years, US institutions in our middle and lower bands struggled to maintain their position, but their elite counterparts were insulated from these difficulties. This seems to no longer be the case: Cornell University falls in 19 of its 40 ranked subjects, only improving in eight. Yale is ranked for 36 and drops in 20. That said, Harvard and MIT remain top of most of our rankings.

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As competing nations struggle, there is positive news for the UK. But it would be premature to conclude that Brexit will not adversely affect universities. The UK’s research performance remains as globally competitive as ever, but the future of collaboration with EU partners and access to EU funding remains unknown.

Similarly, we might also expect EU academics working in the UK to be considering other options amid uncertainty over their future visa status, and for ambitious institutions in other countries to continue courting them.

The QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018 have seen the storm clouds over UK higher education dissipate briefly – but we can offer no long-term reassurances that winter isn’t coming.

Jack Moran is closely involved in the auditing and analysis of the QS World University Rankings alongside the QS Intelligence Unit

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Author : ニックネーム | 10/24/18 6:13 PM | Public
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