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Top Universities in the UK for a Masters - 2023

Written by Mark Bennett

If you're thinking of attending university in the UK then you'll be among a huge international student body. The UK is the most popular destination for postgraduate study abroad in Europe - and the second most popular in the world. It's no surprise then, that British universities are regarded as being some of the best, internationally.

But how do you choose the best university for your Masters in the UK?

One method is to consult international ranking tables. These can tell you which UK universities are the most internationally respected and renowned.

On this page we've looked at the top universities in the UK for Masters study in the three most important world university rankings - allowing you to make an easy comparison of the top institutions overall.

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Top 5 universities in the UK for a Masters

We've taken a look at the five best universities in the UK for postgraduate study according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023.

If you want to know how these universities compare in other university ranking tables, we have a table with the top 50 universities in the UK and their ranks according to three important international rankings.

#1 University of Oxford

Not only is the University of Oxford ranked first in the UK, it is also ranked first in the world! It is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world with eariest records dating back to 1096. Some of the university's emminent alumni include Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde and 28 British Prime Ministers. While the university is known for its excellence in the Sciences, Arts and Humanities courses at the University of Oxford are equally popular.

Find a Masters at the University of Oxford

#2 University of Cambridge

Second in the UK and third overall is the University of Cambridge. The university offers more than 300 postgraduate courses across 31 colleges and 150 faculties. The university is renowned for its excellence in Mathematics and has produced famous mathematicians like Alan Turing and Charles Babbage. In total, 121 Nobel laureates are affiliated with the University of Cambridge! At Cambridge you can study a course with both taught or research elements depending on your interests.

Find a Masters at the University of Cambridge

#3 Imperial College London

Next on the list is Imperial College London. It has a campus in the heart of London and is popular with students wanting to study STEM and Business-related subjects. It has taught the likes of Sir Alexander Fleming who is credited with discovering penicillin. Some of the university's other notable alumni include science fiction author H.G Wells and rock band Queen's lead guitarist Brian May.

Find a Masters at Imperial College London

#4 UCL

UCL is the fourth best university in the UK. It has advocated inclusivity since being the first university in England to admit women on equal terms as men in the 1870s. Today, almost half of all students at UCL are international. With 11 faculties, there is a postgraduate couse for everyone no matter what you wish to study. UCL has been the birthplace of many scientific dicoveries such as the noble gases discovered by chemist William Ramsay and the telephone discovered by Alexander Graham Bell.

Find a Masters at UCL

#5 University of Edinburgh

The only Scottish university in the top five universities in the UK, the University of Edinburgh is also one of Britain and Ireland's seven anceint universities. The Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences college is the largest of the three colleges that make up the University of Edinburgh. Some notable alumni include Charles Darwin and Robert Brown, among many others. In your time at university, you can also discover of the historical city of Edinburgh!

Find a Masters at the University of Edinburgh

World rankings for universities in the UK

The following table gives the 50 top universities in the UK, according to global university rankings. It can show you which British universities are amongst the best in the world - and help you compare institutions on an international level.

This information is based on the latest rankings tables, researched and published by Times Higher Education, QS and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

Each ranking system uses its own methodology, with different factors having more or less influence on a university's result.

This list of universities in the UK all have Masters options. For more information, see our guide to using international rankings as a postgraduate.

Colleges in the UK

In the UK, college is different to the USA. UK colleges deliver academic or vocational courses to students aged 16–18 to prepare them for university or employment. They can also be known as sixth forms. So you won't see colleges on university league tables. We've put together a guide to the differences between college and university in the USA and UK to help explain the difference.

Top 50 UK Universities in 2023
University THE 2023 QS 2023 ARWU 2022
University of Oxford 1 4 7
University of Cambridge =3 2 4
Imperial College London 10 =6 23
UCL 22 8 18
University of Edinburgh 29 15 35
King's College London 35 37 48
London School of Economics and Political Science 37 56 101-150
University of Manchester 54 28 38
University of Bristol 76 =61 81
University of Glasgow =82 81 101-150
University of Warwick =104 64 101-150
University of Birmingham =108 91 101-150
University of Southampton =108 78 151-200
University of Sheffield =114 =96 101-150
Lancaster University 122 146 301-400
Queen Mary University of London =124 117 201-300
University of Leeds =128 86 151-200
University of Nottingham 130 114 101-150
University of Exeter =137 163 101-150
Newcastle University =139 122 201-300
University of York =139 162 401-500
University of Leicester =163 =279 301-400
University of Liverpool =176 =190 101-150
Cardiff University =187 166 151-200
University of Aberdeen =192 =220 201-300
Durham University =198 92 301-400
Queen's University Belfast =198 =233 301-400
University of Reading =198 229 301-400
University of Dundee 201-250 354 301-400
University of East Anglia 201-250 342 201-300
St George's, University of London 201-250 - 501-600
University of St Andrews 201-250 =96 301-400
University of Surrey 201-250 =240 301-400
University of Sussex 201-250 =240 151-200
University of Bath 251-300 =179 401-500
Bournemouth University 251-300 801-1000 801-900
Brighton and Sussex Medical School 251-300 - -
Swansea University 251-300 =425 501-600
Anglia Ruskin University 301-350 - -
University of Essex 301-350 =465 401-500
Birkbeck, University of London 351-400 =343 -
City, University of London 351-400 =355 -
University of Kent 351-400 =375 401-500
Loughborough University 351-400 =256 701-800
Royal Holloway, University of London 351-400 =402 601-700
Royal Veterinary College 351-400 - 801-900
University of Stirling 351-400 501-510 801-900
Aston University 401-500 561-570 -
Bangor University 401-500 601-650 601-700
Brunel University London 401-500 =412 601-700
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

UK university rankings by subject

Academic specialism is vital to postgraduate study. As a Masters student you'll be working at a much more advanced level. This means that you'll need access to the best facilities and the expertise of instructors who are leaders in their field.

One way to check this is to see how well a university does in rankings for your subject. Universities at the top of these leagues will be the best at producing high quality research and attracting top academics. This will be reflected in the quality of their postgraduate courses. Times Higher Education produces a series of international league tables based on subject expertise, and it’s worth taking a look at their World University Rankings by Subject.

Domestic university rankings in the UK

The global rankings discussed above are great if you want to see which UK universities are amongst the best in the world. But there are also several rankings that look specifically at universities within the UK.

Many are published by media organisations including the Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times and Guardian newspapers.

Most of these rankings aren't postgraduate specific. They include criteria such as a student ratios, satisfaction and completion rates that are important, but may not reflect the specific experiences of Masters students.

Looking for more information about postgraduate study in the UK?

Has the impressive performance of UK universities in global rankings convinced you to study a Masters there? If so, we've got lots more advice about postgraduate study in the UK, including information on visas, living costs and language tests.

So, how good are universities in the UK for Masters study?

Pretty good! With 17 universities in the top 100 of the QS ranking, 10 in the top 100 of the THE ranking and 8 in the top 100 of the Shanghai (ARWU) ranking, the UK has more top-ranked universities than any other European country. The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, known collectively as Oxbridge, frequently secure top spots in international league tables.

In fact, the only country to beat the UK in global university league tables is the USA.

Unlike the USA, however, all of the UK's top universities are publicly funded. Their place in global rankings reflects substantial ongoing investment in higher education.

Of course, these are global rankings, not postgraduate rankings. This means they reflect the broad performance and reputation of universities, rather than their specific expertise in the areas you might be considering for a Masters.

There isn't currently a global ranking of universities for postgraduate study. But there are ways to look more closely at the factors that matter most to Masters students. . .

Want to study a Masters in the UK?

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Last updated: 24 November 2022