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Top Ranked Universities in the UK - A Postgraduate Guide

The UK is the most popular destination for postgraduate study abroad in Europe - and the second most popular in the world. It's no suprise then, that British universities are regarded as being some of the best in the world.

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 UK universities in the three most important world rankings - allowing you to make an easy comparison of the top institutions overall.

Of course, the best UK university for your Masters degree won't always be the one that places highest in these global rankings.

Postgraduate study depends on levels of academic specialism and expertise that are hard to reflect in broad tables. That's why we've also included rankings for different postgraduate subject areas - allowing you to find our which UK universities excel in the specific fields you want to study with your Masters.

Top Ranked UK Universities

The following table gives the 50 top universities in the UK, overall, 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.

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

For more information on using international rankings as a postgraduate, see our guide.


University THE Ranking (2015) QS Ranking (2015) Shanghai Ranking (2015)
University of Oxford 2 6 10
University of Cambridge 4 3 5
Imperial College London 8 8 23
University College London 14 7 18
London School of Economics and Political Science 23 35 101-150
University of Edinburgh 24 21 47
King's College London 27 19 55
University of Manchester 56 33 41
University of Bristol 69 37 66
Durham University 70 61 201-300
University of Glasgow 76 62 101-150
University of Warwick 80 48 92
University of St Andrews 86 68 301-400
University of Exeter 93 161 151-200
University of Sheffield 97 80 101-150
Queen Mary University of London 98 109 151-200
University of Southampton 110 81 101-150
University of Birmingham 119 76 101-150
Royal Holloway, University of London 129 231 -
Lancaster University 130 121 301-400
University of Leeds 133 87 101-150
University of Sussex 140 187 151-200
University of Nottingham 143 70 101-150
University of East Anglia 149 239 201-300
University of Liverpool 157 151 101-150
University of Reading 164 156 301-400
University of Leicester 167 235 201-300
University of Aberdeen 172 137 201-300
Cardiff University 182 122 151-200
University of Dundee 185 261 201-300
Newcastle University 196 162 201-300
St George's University of London 196 - -
Queen's University Belfast 200 182 301-400
Birkbeck, University of London 200 290 -
Royal Veterinary College 201-250 - -
University of Bath 251-300 159 401-500
University of Surrey 251-300 247 401-500
Aberystwyth University 301-350 - -
Bangor University 301-350 411-420 -
University of Essex 301-350 303 401-500
University of Kent 301-350 360 -
Plymouth University 301-350 - -
Loughborough University 351-400 228 -
University of Stirling 351-400 384 -
Swansea University 351-400 400 -
Bournemouth University 401-500 - -
Brunel University London 401-500 331 401-500
City University London 401-500 301 -
Heriot-Watt University 401-500 318 -
University of Hull 401-500 - -
Information in this table is based on the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

So, how good are UK universities for Masters study?

Pretty good! With 17 universities in the top 100 of the QS ranking, 15 in the top 100 of the THE ranking and 9 in the top 100 of the Shanghai (ARWU) ranking, the UK has more top-ranked universities than any other European country.

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 publically funded. Their place in global rankings reflects substantial ongoing investment in higher education.

Do rankings matter for Masters degrees?

International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.

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. . .

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.

The following table lists the top UK universities in six broad subject areas. It's based on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject. This lists the best 100 universities in different academic fields, around the world.


University Ranking by subject
Physical Sciences Engineering & Technology Life Sciences Social Sciences Arts & Humanities Medicine & Health
University of Cambridge 6 4 11 2 6 3
University of Oxford 8 6 4 1 4 1
Imperial College London 16 9 - 6 - 5
University of Edinburgh 23 63 30 19 16 12
University College London 27 38 16 12 5 4
University of Manchester 42 35 34 53 40 60
University of Warwick 64 - 50 - 30 -
University of Glasgow 70 - - 77 58 47
University of Bristol 81 69 87 48 68 86
Royal Holloway, University of London 81 - - 88 59 -
Durham University 83 - - - 28 -
University of Southampton - 75 - - - -
University of Exeter - 94 81 82 71 -
London School of Economics and Political Science - - 12 - - -
King's College London - - 20 34 15 8
University of St Andrews - - 46 74 50 -
University of Sussex - - 65 - - -
University of Sheffield - - 69 - 54 -
University of Leeds - - 79 52 - -
Lancaster University - - 84 - 63 -
University of Essex - - 85 - - -
University of Reading - - - 67 95 -
University of East Anglia - - - 70 - -
University of Aberdeen - - - 84 - -
University of Dundee - - - 85 - 90
Birkbeck, University of London - - - - 52 -
Queen Mary University of London - - - - 53 75
University of Birmingham - - - - 88 94
University of Nottingham - - - - - 94
St George's University of London - - - - - 94
Information in this table is based on the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings by Subject. This ranks the top 100 global universities in six core academic fields.

How good are UK universities in postgraduate subjects?

With 30 different universities in the top 100 across six separate disciplines, the UK possesses plenty of the expertise that supports postgraduate study.

Six of these institutions also rank in the top 100 for every single subject-area - a very impressive achievement. Others are more specialised, demonstrating their focus on specific areas.

You can use these rankings to find the best UK universities for postgraduate study in your subject.

Or you can use them to see how well UK universities do in your subject area as a whole. For example, knowing that 19 of the UK's universities are in the top 100 for Arts and Humanities can be useful even if the Masters you specifically want to study isn't offered by one of them. The achievements of top UK universities can reflect the quality of postgraduate courses in that subject across the country.

Search for a Masters in the UK

Rankings are a great way to find your way around a country's universities and narrow your search. But the most important factor in choosing a Masters in the UK will be the content of the course itself. That's why our course listings include so much information about different programmes. Why not take a look?

Domestic rankings of UK universities

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.

Most are published by existing 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.

The exception is the Guardian which publishes postgraduate subject tables.

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.

Last updated - 22/03/2016

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