World University Rankings 2024: UK doubles down on global links

UK universities are overwhelmingly represented at the top of the international outlook pillar

September 27, 2023
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Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2024

The UK has strengthened its lead as the world’s most international university system, but there are concerns that government policy could threaten its position in coming years.

Analysis of the international outlook pillar in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 shows that UK universities claim 31 (62 per cent) of the top 50 places, nearly double the number last year (16, or 32 per cent). Switzerland and Hong Kong come second, with five universities each in this group.

The international outlook score is based on data from three metrics: proportion of international students, staff and co-authorship. For the first time this year, the population of the country has been taken into account when evaluating these measures, to avoid penalising universities in large nations – giving the UK a slight boost.

World University Rankings 2024: results announced

When looking solely at the ranking for this pillar, the top-performing UK institutions are Brunel University London and Queen’s University Belfast, with scores of 98.4 out of 100, putting them in joint fourth place. Imperial College London follows in sixth place globally, with a score of 98.3.

Of the 31 UK institutions that feature in the top 50 for international outlook, eight are located in London.

Trevor Hoey, pro vice-chancellor (international and sustainability) at Brunel, says there is a default “element of location” when it comes to drawing staff from the global market. Similarly, international students are likely to have more family and friends in or around London, adding to the attractiveness of the city’s institutions.

However, Brunel has not been relying solely on location – it has been boosting internationalisation in other ways, such as supporting its global community. It encourages staff “not to leave [relationships] behind” when they move to the UK from other countries, Hoey says. Holding on to their home connections helps with research partnerships and exchanges and results in “a virtuous circle” of internationalisation, he explains.

Different collaborations spring up all the time, but Hoey says it takes time to see which ones really work.

The best initiatives the university has made, he believes, have involved trust-building over a prolonged period, such as its 16-year transnational education partnership with Ahlia University in Bahrain.

He references instances where partnerships have been “cordial” at the vice-chancellor level but did not strike a chord for the academics involved. Hoey believes that collaborations are more likely to succeed if a desire to work together is sown and nurtured at lower levels in the universities involved, before the projects rise up over time to secure the support of the leadership teams.

While data reflect these efforts by UK institutions in recent years, 2023 has seen a tightening of government restrictions on international students. Most recently, they have been banned from bringing dependants to the UK unless they are on postgraduate research courses.

Hoey says these new rules are “really causing difficulties for recruitment”. In the face of competition from the US and Australia, he says, the UK is “naive” if it thinks that the students it loses because of such a policy will be replaced. Future vacancies may well be filled, “but not with the same calibre of people”, he predicts.

Tatiana Fumasoli, director of UCL’s Centre for Higher Education Studies, says the UK’s strong international outlook even after Brexit shows that the country’s universities have “a brand that continues to work”. However, with an international student market that is “always changing”, the nation cannot rest on its laurels. “If I were the UK government, I would be worried about high-skilled researchers,” she adds.

Data at the continent level show that, across the international outlook pillar, North America has improved the most since last year, with Africa second. At a country level, the highest increase in average international scores is seen in China, the US and Nigeria (excluding nations with fewer than six ranked institutions), in part due to the new population adjustment.

The United Arab Emirates-based University of Sharjah leads the international outlook pillar with a top score of 98.8, while City University of Hong Kong follows closely with 98.7.

International outlook pillar: the top 50

Pillar rank WUR rank University Country/region Pillar score
1 351–400 University of Sharjah United Arab Emirates                    98.8
2 82 City University of Hong Kong Hong Kong                    98.7
3 251–300 Università della Svizzera italiana Switzerland                    98.5
=4 351–400 Brunel University London United Kingdom                    98.4
=4 201–250 Queen’s University Belfast United Kingdom                    98.4
6 8 Imperial College London United Kingdom                    98.3
7 135 Queen Mary University of London United Kingdom                    98.1
8 22 UCL United Kingdom                    97.9
=9 201–250 Abu Dhabi University United Arab Emirates                    97.8
=9 301–350 Hong Kong Baptist University Hong Kong                    97.8
11 501–600 Alfaisal University Saudi Arabia                    97.7
=12 201–250 University of Aberdeen United Kingdom                    97.5
=12 =38 King’s College London United Kingdom                    97.5
=12 1 University of Oxford United Kingdom                    97.5
=15 5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom                    97.4
=15 301–350 University of Essex United Kingdom                    97.4
=15 251–300 Khalifa University United Arab Emirates                    97.4
=15 =138 Maastricht University Netherlands                    97.4
19 501–600 University of Greenwich United Kingdom                    97.2
=20 183 University of Geneva Switzerland                    97.1
=20 71 Institut Polytechnique de Paris France                    97.1
22 =30 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom                    97.0
=23 35 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong                    96.8
=23 =155 Lancaster University United Kingdom                    96.8
=23 251–300 University of Surrey United Kingdom                    96.8
26 =97 University of Southampton United Kingdom                    96.5
=27 =168 University of Liverpool United Kingdom                    96.4
=27 =106 University of Warwick United Kingdom                    96.4
29 =87 Hong Kong Polytechnic University Hong Kong                    96.3
30 =87 University of Glasgow United Kingdom                    96.1
31 251–300 Qatar University Qatar                    96.0
=32 174 Durham University United Kingdom                    95.8
=32 33 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland                    95.8
=32 =193 University of St Andrews United Kingdom                    95.8
=35 601–800 Coventry University United Kingdom                    95.6
=35 11 ETH Zurich Switzerland                    95.6
=35 51 University of Manchester United Kingdom                    95.6
=38 351–400 City, University of London United Kingdom                    95.5
=38 =177 University of Exeter United Kingdom                    95.5
=38 =64 The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong                    95.5
=38 201–250 University of Reading United Kingdom                    95.5
=42 =123 University of Basel Switzerland                    95.4
=42 201–250 University of Sussex United Kingdom                    95.4
44 401–500 Aston University United Kingdom                    95.2
=45 101 University of Birmingham United Kingdom                    95.1
=45 201–250 University of Leicester United Kingdom                    95.1
=45 401–500 Royal Veterinary College United Kingdom                    95.1
=48 251–300 University of Bath United Kingdom                    95.0
=48 41 University of British Columbia Canada                    95.0
50 =119 University of Vienna Austria                    94.9

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