Ranking of European Universities
Europe’s standing as a coherent political and economic unit has been put under immense stress by the global economic crisis. But the 2013 QS World University Rankings by Subject reinforce the point that Europe has also failed to become united in scholarly and educational terms.
While individual European nations guard their own school-level education systems jealously, universities are an area in which there has long been pressure for standards to be set at a continental level. This is seen most clearly in the Bologna process and in the foundation of the European Research Council, intended respectively to harmonize teaching and to make top researchers compete for money on a European stage.
This year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject suggest that Europe’s ambitions have some way to go. A single US institution, Harvard, is first in ten of the 30 subjects ranked, with other US universities topping a further dozen. The other eight subject rankings are all led by UK universities: four by Oxford, three by Cambridge and one by Imperial College London. Cambridge is Europe’s highest ranked institution for 12 out of the 30 subjects.
The obvious conclusion is that the big US universities have pulled ahead of the continental European higher education system, taking with them the well-resourced UK institutions which attract most British research funding.
But a closer look suggests that continental Europe has strengths that it would be foolish to ignore.
A look at the top 20 universities in each subject shows that in one ranking, communications, Europe has only two entrants, while in geography it has ten, mainly because the subject is not widely recognized in US education. Across the full range, there is an average of 5.4 European universities in the top 20. About a quarter tend to be from continental Europe.
This may sound like a modest achievement for an affluent region with comparative political stability and deep cultural roots. But look at it another way. With a population of about 400 million, Europe has less than 6% of the world’s people, but still manages to have perhaps a fifth of its influential universities.
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