Many organisations, both local to the United Kingdom and international, rank Universities based on a number of criteria, including course satisfaction, student-teacher ratios, and the added value for each student, among a multitude of other important factors. The Guardian is one influential organisation that performs these rankings, as is The Times and The Complete University Guide.
All three of these organisations, and the many others that are available, weight their criteria differently. Therefore, it is worth having a look at a few different sites to see if you can spot a trend. If one university is consistently ranked very highly across different criteria and organisations, then this allows us to come to the natural conclusion that there is some reliability in the ranking. Indeed, looking at the 2021 rankings for both The Times and The Guardian, it is possible to see that, while their lists do place universities differently, their #1 ranking for both is the same.
The University of Oxford appears at the #1 spot for both The Times and The Guardian, while University of Cambridge occupies the #1 position for The Complete University Guide. These two universities together are often referred to as “Oxbridge” and are considered the UK’s most prestigious further education institutions. They are considered highly academically rigorous and often are associated with world-leading research in a wide array of fields, ranging from literature and classics to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As a result of their international influence and appeal, courses at either of these universities often require outstanding grades at A-Level, in addition to being able to demonstrate a passion for your subject through extra-curricular activities.
They are also among the oldest in the UK, and so work slightly differently to other universities. As well as applying to be a part of the wider “Oxford University” as a collective, both Oxford and Cambridge are made up of smaller colleges which you should also consider when applying. These colleges tend to have their own personalities and rivalries, so it is worth doing your research to see which college you would feel the most at home in.
Russell Group Universities
Oxford and Cambridge represent the most prominent positions in the University Rankings of the UK, but they are by no means the only world-leading institutions that are available for students wishing to study in the United Kingdom. Oxford and Cambridge are both part of a larger group of research-intensive universities, called The Russell Group. This group of 24 universities span across the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, with a concentration of several members in London. This means that you can factor the geographical location into your decision and choose an area of the UK that you would really like to live in.
Every Russell Group university is considered to be highly academic, and good degrees from these universities are considered to demonstrate high levels of competency in your studied field, in addition to a strong work ethic and research ability. The entry requirements vary across the different courses and member universities, so make sure you keep your target grades in mind when choosing the university that you would like to apply for.
Non-Russell Group Universities
Despite Russell Group universities unquestionably offering an excellent standard of education, there are certainly other options outside of this group to consider as well. This is especially evident for certain professions, in which universities may specialise in certain subjects and therefore be renowned for their teaching in those subjects. For this reason, it is important to keep your mind open when searching university rankings and comparing your selections.
While there is a case to be made for what the public perception of your university of choice is, it may not be fully worthwhile if your quality of education and access to resources would have been higher at a different university. Make sure that you keep non-Russell Group universities in mind.
So, what are the best Universities in the UK?
The only person that can answer this question is yourself. You need to consider lots of factors, including the geographical location, the quality of education for your subject, and your predicted grades. You also need to consider whether it is important to you to be a part of one of the research-intensive Russell Group universities, or if you would feel comfortable with a good quality of education outside of this group.
Once you have considered all of the different factors, then you may be ready to answer the question: “What is the best University in the UK for me?”