UK universities challenged to rank in QS top 100

By John O’Leary, QS Academic Advisory Board
Ministers in the UK have become the latest to use QS rankings as a measure of universities’ performance.  David Willetts, who is responsible for higher education in England, has challenged the country’s universities to win more places in the top 100 of the QS, Times Higher Education and Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings.

The initiative is intended to boost innovation, another part of the minister’s brief. The UK government is using QS rankings alone to illustrate the excellence of its universities in a poster campaign to promote the country ahead of the London Olympics, quoting the UK’s four representatives in the world’s top ten. Mr Willetts acknowledged in his speech that the three main rankings used different methodologies, but set a target for UK representation in the top 100 to grow.

The minister said all the rating agencies agreed that the UK university system was second only to the United States. He endorsed the view of Professor Eric Thomas, President of Universities UK, that “if the British economy has been a stagecoach stuck in the mud then our universities are one of the horses that can pull it out.”

As part of his innovation drive, Mr Willetts invited leading overseas universities to set up in the UK in partnership with domestic universities to conduct research in science and technology and offer postgraduate courses. The proposal mirrors the establishment in New York of a graduate school focused on science and technology by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is based in Haifa. Unlike the New York development, any equivalent in the UK will not receive public funding.

Mr Willetts said private finance would be required, possibly with sponsorship from businesses that were keen to recruit more British graduates, although he hoped local councils might donate land in an effort to attract a graduate school. Mr Willetts has also been trying to mitigate the damage done to international student recruitment by tougher visa regulations introduced by his own government. His department has published new research demonstrating the labour market successes of overseas graduates educated in the UK. A survey conducted by i-graduate 30 months after graduation showed those who had studied in the UK earning substantially more than those who took degrees in their home country.

The report is consistent with the QS Global Employer Survey Report last year, which showed employers in most countries putting a premium on an international student experience.

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