03/10/2012 17:01 BST | Updated 05/10/2012 02:46 BST

US Universities Trump UK In Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012-13 Tables

An American university has once again been crowned best in the world, so what is it US institutions have over their UK competitors - and why are British students shunning their country's offerings and flocking overseas?

For the second year running, the California Institute of Technology has trumped UK competition to take the top spot in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2012-13.


CalTech, as it's known, is officially the best university in the world

Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education rankings, says:

"Given the seriousness of the funding cuts facing England and the strength of the competition, the tripled student tuition fees introduced this year look increasingly like a sticking plaster for an amputation."

American universities took seven of the top 10 places, and 76 of the top 200 - one up from last year.

Only a handful of the UK's institutions have gone against the grain of national decline; the London School of Economics has risen from 47th to 39th place, Edinburgh University has climbed from 36th to 32nd and York has rocketed from joint 121st to 103rd. The average top 200 UK university has fallen 6.7 places - compared to a 6.5 decline for the average US university.

In total, 10 UK universities are in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2012/13, compared with 12 last year and 14 in 2010/11.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings table:

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Information provided by the Times Higher Education

The league table, using Thomson Reuters to analyse the data, rates universities across 13 separate performance indicators, which are then grouped in five categories: teaching, research, citations, industry income and international outlook.

Although Oxford University took a very respectable joint second place with Stanford, figures have shown a record number of UK students pursued US study in the 2010-11 academic year, and with no signs of slowing down either.

The latest available data, from IIE Open Doors, shows in 2010-11, more than 9,000 UK students were enrolled at US colleges - meaning the UK higher missed out on £243m worth of tuition fees.

The Fulbright Commission, which is a government-supported, official source of information on applying to American universities for British students, reported a "sharp rise in interest in the US".

"But it is not just increasing interest," Jamie Dunn, educational adviser for the group, told the Huffington Post UK. "Students are actually taking admission tests and submitting applications for US universities in droves."

The commission saw its USA college day fair double in size between 2010 and 2011, while its website traffic was up more than 30%.

Lauren Welch, director of advising and marketing at Fulbright, said the liberal arts curriculum offered at most US institutions is the real selling point for students.

"It's great for 18-year-olds who don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their lives at age but who are still looking for a well-rounded degree and the flexibility to explore their interests before selecting a major area of study.

"Students also cite the opportunity to experience American campus life as well as the quality and reputation of US universities as top reasons for wanting to head west. Lastly, many students are attracted to the funding opportunities available in the US."

Natasha Lipman, founder of the International Political Forum and HuffPost UK blogger, went to a US university in the UK.

"The US system, in my opinion, is vastly superior. It is extremely flexible; you don't have to declare your major until your junior (third) year (courses are four years), which gives you the opportunity to take classes from a number of subjects to help you make up your mind.

"I know so many people who have started and then had to take a year out of uni because they didn't like their course. This rarely happens in the US system, as you can change your major as many times as you like until you need to confirm it, and it doesn't leave you having wasted a year and a lot of money on tuition."

She added the flexibility was not the only advantage of attending a US university.

"Additionally, I had a huge amount more contact time than my friends at UK universities.

"While friends were complaining about eight hours of lectures a week, some semesters I would have that in one day. I would have 18 hours a week of classes. On top of that each class is continually assessed, which made me want to do my work, and do it well.

"It is also a fairer system. Not only does all the work you are assigned have a value placed on it, it also means that a year of work is not all based on one exam at the end, which I think is unfair.

"In terms of the system I couldn't recommend them enough. Every time I hear people talking about the UK system I'm so glad I chose to go to a US university."

Yale University, which ranked 11th place this year, has seen a 100% increase in UK applications over the past six years. A spokeswoman said the funding was a big bonus for foreign students.

"It is worth noting that Yale’s financial aid policies for foreign citizens are exactly the same as those for US citizens," she told HuffPost UK. "Furthermore, Yale extends its need-blind admissions policy to international students so the College will be accessible to all candidates from any part of the world who show great academic and personal promise, regardless of their financial situation."

Richard Everitt, director of education at the British Council USA, said many students may look to the US as a "land of opportunity".

"We share a common language, which is likely to be a big draw since many UK students do not study other languages. Our societies also share many similarities. Students may also look at career opportunities beyond their education and see the US as land of opportunity in that regard.

"I think it is likely that more UK students will look outside of the UK for higher education opportunities."

For a full listing of the world university rankings, go to the Times Higher Education site.


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