It’s hard to beat the cachet of the University of Oxford in the world of English-speaking academia. With a history tracing to the 12th century, or even a few years earlier, the venerable institution counts among its alumni poets from John Donne to W.H. Auden, as well as dozens of British prime ministers and Nobel laureates.
Now Oxonians have yet more evidence, as if any were needed, of their university’s prestige. On Wednesday, Oxford was named the top global university for the first time by Times Higher Education. The British university bumped the California Institute of Technology from that top slot, which the school in Southern California had held for the previous five years. It was the first time that a school in the United Kingdom topped the list developed by the U.K.-based analysts.
Oxford and Caltech are two very different places. But it is the nature of rankings to lump all sorts of schools together in a sorting exercise that attempts to show who’s up and who’s down from one year to another.
So this year it is Oxford’s turn to be No. 1, a year after it was No. 2. The rankers credited the university’s rising research income, the influence of its research, and its success in recruiting international talent. Here’s the Times Higher Education top 25:
3. Stanford University
4. University of Cambridge
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. Harvard University
7. Princeton University
8. Imperial College London
9. ETH Zurich — Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
10. (tie) University of California at Berkeley
10. (tie) University of Chicago
12. Yale University
13. University of Pennsylvania
14. University of California, Los Angeles
15. University College London
16. Columbia University
17. Johns Hopkins University
18. Duke University
19. Cornell University
20. Northwestern University
21. University of Michigan
22. University of Toronto
23. Carnegie Mellon University
24. National University of Singapore
25. (tie) London School of Economics and Political Science
25. (tie) University of Washington
Aside from Oxford and Caltech switching places, the only annual change in the top 10 was UC-Berkeley moving up from 13th to a tie with Chicago. It is worth noting that this analysis of U.S. schools varies slightly from the rankings published by U.S. News and World Report, which for several years has named Princeton as the top national university.
Times Higher Education has been ranking world universities since 2004. Its formula considers various metrics for teaching, research, citations, “international outlook” and “industry income,” or knowledge transfer.
Skeptics say that such lists are a pointless parlor game. It is exceedingly difficult to compare a school in Massachusetts with one in India or South Korea. But in an increasingly global market for faculty and students, the rankings draw attention from near and far and therefore have influence.
The United States has 63 schools in THE’s top 200, more than any other country. The United Kingdom has 32, Germany 22 and the Netherlands 13. Canada and Australia each have 8.