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2021 UK University Rankings - Top Choices for Postgraduate Study

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

Top Ranked UK Universities

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.

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


Top 50 UK Universities in 2021
University THE 2021 QS 2021 ARWU 2020
University of Oxford 1 5 9
University of Cambridge 6 7 3
Imperial College London 11 8 25
UCL 16 10 16
London School of Economics and Political Science 27 49 151-200
University of Edinburgh 30 20 42
King's College London 35 =31 47
University of Manchester =51 =27 36
University of Warwick 77 62 101-150
University of Bristol 91 58 64
University of Glasgow =92 =77 151-200
University of Birmingham =107 87 101-150
Queen Mary University of London 110 =114 201-300
University of Sheffield =121 =93 101-150
University of Southampton =127 90 101-150
University of York =133 =150 201-300
Lancaster University =136 =135 301-400
Durham University =149 86 201-300
University of Nottingham =158 99 101-150
University of Leeds =160 91 101-150
University of Sussex =160 =246 151-200
University of Liverpool 163 =181 101-150
University of Leicester =170 =242 301-400
University of Exeter =174 164 151-200
University of Aberdeen =178 207 201-300
Newcastle University =178 =152 201-300
Cardiff University =191 159 151-200
University of East Anglia =200 =333 201-300
Queen's University Belfast =200 209 401-500
University of Bath 201-250 =173 301-400
University of Dundee 201-250 319 301-400
University of Reading 201-250 205 201-300
St George's, University of London 201-250 - 501-600
University of St Andrews 201-250 96 301-400
Brighton and Sussex Medical School 251-300 - -
University of Surrey 251-300 =267 301-400
Swansea University 251-300 =474 601-700
Anglia Ruskin University 301-350 - -
University of Essex 301-350 =411 501-600
University of Kent 301-350 =380 501-600
Royal Holloway, University of London 301-350 =308 701-800
University of Stirling 301-350 =485 901-1000
Birkbeck, University of London 351-400 =344 901-1000
Brunel University London 351-400 =368 501-600
City, University of London 351-400 =350 701-800
Heriot-Watt University 351-400 =301 701-800
Loughborough University 351-400 226 501-600
Northumbria University 351-400 651-700 901-1000
Aberystwyth University 401-500 =485 901-1000
Aston University 401-500 511-520 701-800
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.

So, how good are UK universities for Masters study?

Pretty good! With 18 universities in the top 100 of the QS ranking, 11 in the top 100 of the THE ranking and eight 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 publicly 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. 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.

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.

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.

Last updated 08/09/2020

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