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Higher education in the UK has risen two places to be ranked eighth best in the world in an annual league produced by a group of leading research universities.
Despite the rise, overall British HE still lags behind the USA, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands, according to the rankings from Universitas 21.
The rankings measure 50 countries on indicators including investment in higher education, the regulatory environment and research output.
On research output, the top five countries are the same as last year -- the USA is clearly out in front, followed by the UK, Canada, Sweden and Finland. Among the top eight for output, all but two (the UK and Australia) are in the top eight for resources.
This year for the first time Universitas 21 has taken account of a country’s GDP per head in new tables, which show that China has made great strides ahead as a result of its investment in higher education.
“China’s advance in the table when adjusted for GDP is not surprising,” said Simon Marginson, Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, who is on the report’s steering group.
“It is a low middle income country but has concentrations of wealth in Eastern china and Beijing. You get the combination of high performance and modest GDP. It looks like China’s system is working pretty efficiently.”
The country that devotes more resources to higher education than is expected from its GDP level is Malaysia, followed by Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Denmark and Finland. All these countries perform better than China.
The UK also does better when adjustment is made for GDP, coming in at 6th position with this taken into account.
“This year’s rankings show that the Scandinavian system is strong, the USA is fantastic and the UK punches above its weight considering it is way down on investment in higher education,” said Professor Marginson.
British universities are among the best connected in the world. They are in third place for connectivity after Switzerland and Sweden. This is because the UK has a high number of international students and a high proportion – more than half – of its papers co-authored with industry.
“The worth of a national higher education system is enhanced if it is well connected with the rest of the nation’s society, and is linked internationally in education and research,” says a report on the rankings.
The definition of connectivity has been expanded this year to include measures of interaction with business and industry in addition to numbers of international students, research articles written with international collaborators and web-based interaction.
The countries that perform best for having a good regulatory environment are New Zealand and the Netherlands whereas resource levels are highest in Denmark, followed by Canada, Sweden and the USA.
The biggest change since 2013 in resource levels has been a fall of five places by Bulgaria, Hungary and the Russian Federation as a result of relative falls in government spending.
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