Britain’s best universities

by Laura Jones
October 12, 2020

You probably think that the best universities in Britain are Oxford and Cambridge. And you’re right, Oxford and Cambridge usually stand in 1st and 2nd places in the league tables and they’re recognised as being two of the best universities in the world, not just in the UK. But there are so many other great universities in Britain and, depending on the subject you want to study, you have a wide range of choices. 

The best universities in the UK

Oxford and Cambridge

For the year 2021, Oxford and Cambridge are the two top ranked universities in Britain. Graduating from either almost guarantees you a good job because they are known across the globe as great places to study. And it doesn’t really matter what you study; whatever subject you choose, you can go places. It’s not easy to get a place at either of these universities; 1 in 5 applicants to Oxbridge (Oxford/Cambridge) get a place to study. That means 80% of people who apply are rejected. 

Oxford and Cambridge are the oldest universities in Britain and they are both in the south of England. Both cities are beautiful and full of historical buildings. There is a – usually – friendly rivalry between the two which comes to a head in The Boat Race, a set of rowing races held on The Thames every year. 

There are lots of famous graduates from both universities. 28 British Prime Ministers went to Oxford, including Boris Johnson; lots of famous authors including J.R.R. Tolkein and Lewis Carroll attended university there, as did many actors including Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson, better known as Mr Bean. From Cambridge we have the scientists Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin among many others, A.A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, and the actor Ian McKellan, also known as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings

The subjects

Medicine

If you want to study medicine, Oxford and Cambridge are considered top destinations. But you might also want to think about two universities in Scotland if you want to become a doctor. The University of Dundee and the University of Glasgow were both very high up in the league tables this year for their medical schools. The best news is, if you’re from Scotland, studying in Scotland is pretty cheap compared to in England. 

The Arts

The Arts covers a big range of subjects including archaeology, modern languages and philosophy. Unsurprisingly, the best place to study Arts subjects is Oxbridge. Next up we have the University of Edinburgh, the London School of Economics (LSE) and King’s College London which are all Russell Group universities – a group of 24 leading UK universities. Both LSE and King’s are in the centre of London, so this is a big attraction for many students too. 

Business and Economics

Now we come to subjects related to business and economics, including management and accounting and the first time Oxbridge isn’t in 1st place. The best university in the UK for these subjects is LSE, with Oxbridge coming in second. Two other London universities, University College London (UCL) and the London Business School, come in next. I guess the lesson here is if you want to study business, go to the UK’s business capital – London. 

Engineering and tech

Engineering and technology subjects have been growing rapidly in the past ten years and leading the way in the UK is… Oxbridge! There are also two London universities in the top 5,  Imperial College London and UCL. In 5th place, we have the University of Manchester which is another Russell Group university and was only formed in 2004 – so it’s pretty young. The University of Manchester is the second biggest university in the UK and it has many famous graduates, including Benedict Cumberbatch, a.k.a the current Sherlock Holmes. 

Natural Sciences

The Natural Sciences cover subjects like Chemistry, Geography and Physics. The best places to study these subjects probably won’t surprise you: the top 5 are Oxbridge, Imperial College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Edinburgh. Manchester graduates have won 19 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, so you’ll be in good company if you decide to study there. The University of Edinburgh likes to claim naturalist Charles Darwin as an alumnus, but he never actually graduated from there – he gave up on his medical studies which he found too boring. 

Social Sciences

If you’re looking to study the Social Sciences like Anthropology, Law and Politics, there are some go-to universities in the UK. The top positions are taken by Oxbridge and the London universities, but other places to consider are the University of Manchester and the University of Warwick. Warwick – pronounced Worrik (/ˈwɒrɪk/) – is generally considered an excellent university in the UK and it is situated just outside Coventry which is a top university town. 

Sports Science

If you want to study Sports Science, Oxbridge isn’t the best place for you. Instead, Loughborough makes an appearance again – it’s been a great place to study Sports Science for a long time in the UK. The Universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Durham come next on the list. All of these universities also have really good competitive sports teams, so if you’d like to experience national sporting glory, they are good choices. In case you’re wondering, rugby is the most popular competitive sport at most UK universities but whatever you play, there’ll be a team for you. 

The best university cities 

Let’s be honest, university isn’t just about studying and getting a good degree result. Going to university is about the experience. Meeting new people, often living away from home for the first time, growing up, becoming independent, working out what you like doing, and yes, in the end, getting a job. So here we’re going to look at the best university cities in the UK. This means things like the student mix, job prospects, affordability and students’ opinions. 

London is in 1st place as the best university city in the UK and, in fact, in the world – it beat Tokyo and Melbourne to the top spot. London is a fascinating, fast-paced city which students fall in love with.

Next comes Edinburgh which is a much smaller city than London and offers a very different pace of life.

Next up is Manchester, which is a buzzing city which is much more affordable than London. Glasgow and Coventry round out the top 5; Glasgow is rated highly for its friendliness and nightlife and Coventry is a very diverse university, with 42% of its students coming from outside of the UK.

Northern cities are usually much cheaper than those in the south of England, so if you want to save your pennies, Manchester and Glasgow are good bets. 

Where do you think you would like to study in the UK? Would you go for the very traditional Oxford or Cambridge, or would you try one of the other options?

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