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UK universities top destinations for Nobel Prize winners

The UK is the top destination for Nobel Prize winners who have studied abroad, a new study by the British Council has found.

As the Nobel Institute announces its 2015 winners this week, the British Council analysis of past winners reveals that 38 per cent of Nobel Laureates who have studied at universities abroad, studied in the UK – more than any other country.

Since the first prize was awarded in 1901, some 860 individuals have received the award. Of the winners, 131 had studied at an overseas university for some or all of their higher education. Fifty out of those,  representing 38 per cent, had studied in the UK, compared to 37 (28 per cent) who had studied in the USA, and 23 (18 per cent) who had studied in Germany.

Dr Jo Beall, British Council Director of Education and Society, said:

“The British Council celebrates UK alumni, and without question, Nobel Laureates have changed the world. Their journeys would have begun with their studies at university, so it’s wonderful to discover that for Nobel Laureates who went abroad to pursue their education, more studied in the UK than anywhere else. Our global reputation for education excellence has long attracted the most ambitious people from across the world. Today there are almost five hundred thousand international students studying at UK universities and it’s thrilling to imagine what they will go to achieve and which of them could be future Nobel Laureates; with their experience here as a springboard to that.”

In 2013-14 there were 493,570 international students studying in UK universities, and the 2015 British Council Student Insight Survey found that the UK’s quality of education, having an internationally recognised qualification, career prospects and the university reputation were the four chief factors currently attracting students here.

The Swedish Nobel Institute began awarding prizes in 1901 recognising outstanding contributions in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine or Physiology, Literature and Peace. In 1968 the Nobel memorial prize in economic sciences was established by Sveriges Riksbank, the central bank of Sweden, for contributions to the field of Economics. 

The most recent Nobel Prize winner who had studied in the UK as an overseas student is Randy Schekman, an American cell biologist who won the 2013 prize for Physiology or Medicine. While an undergraduate, Schekman spent his third year studying at the University of Edinburgh.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, said:

“I am confident that you will find many of the next generation of Nobel Laureates studying in the UK today. The continued pursuit of excellence in the research we undertake here at the University of Edinburgh, and at other top universities across the country, will ensure that future Nobel Laureates are attracted. International students play a huge part in making the vibrant, innovative and diverse community at The University of Edinburgh. This research by the British Council affirms the transformative effect that learning in other countries and cultures has - and it is our ambition to offer all our students an international learning experience”.

The UK university that has hosted the most international students who went on to win Nobel Prizes is the University of Cambridge (18 Laureates), followed by the University of Oxford (11), and the London School of Economics (five).

The most common Nobel prize for UK alumni was Medicine or Physiology, with 17 winners. Eight UK alumni won  prizes for Physics, eight for Chemistry, seven for Economics, five for Literature and five for Peace.

There have also been 91 British winners of the prize, since 1901. The University of Cambridge again dominates, having taught 48 British students who went on to win Nobel Prizes, followed by the University of Oxford with 17, and the University of Manchester, who taught seven.

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