The British newspaper The Guardian carried a story from the QS World University Rankings league tables that the UK’s Cambridge University had ousted Harvard from its top university place. Both universities have produced a lecture theatre-full of Nobel Laureates, enough statement and politicians to populate the UN General Assembly, labs-full of scientists and authors, poets and journalists to keep even the most fastidious librarian content.
This is a historic achievement for Cambridge University because it is the first time that an Ivy League university has been toppled from poll position. But Cambridge was not the only British university to make a good showing in the international league table. Cambridge’s sister university, Oxford made it to the top ten along with University College London and Imperial College. Edinburgh University and London’s King’s College crashed into the world’s top 25 universities.
Cambridge earned its top ranking in part to the quality of its research. A survey of 15,000 higher education academics gave Cambridge is place based on the remarkable pedigree of its thinkers, researchers and philosophers.
Cambridge has fostered eminent minds that pushed the frontiers of known knowledge. Great minds like Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Wittgenstein and many more; people of this caliber challenged conventional thinking, overturned traditional conventions, and irrevocably changed the way the world sees itself.
The QS survey also used the number of citations in academic publishing to compile its ranking table.
There is however a sting in the tale; according to The Guardian newspaper Harvard lost its top place because of a freeze on employing researchers and teachers, which has adversely affected the number of citations in the academic press. Because the British governments cuts to English university funding Cambridge may find itself in a similar situation.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the UK universities trailing the competition in public investment. And the share of GDP in higher education in the UK is below the international average at 0.7% as compared to the OECD average of 1%. This places the UK higher education investment below that of the USA, Canada and even Slovenia. British universities are in danger of sliding even further behind its main competitors.
This is a fear of the Russell Group of research-intense UK universities. The group warns that British universities are in danger of falling behind their major foreign competitors because of the potential of government policy to reduce the amount and quality of research.
The challenge to British universities excellence comes not just from the major developed nations but from emerging economies too. The list contains 15 Asian universities in its top 100 ranking.
Leading this field is the University of Hong Kong, but Chinese and South Korean universities also have increased their lead and made headway into the QS league tables. This is a trend that may be here to stay and to challenge some universities in the developed world.
Potted History of Cambridge
- Cambridge was founded in 1209 by scholars fleeing a hostile Oxford shifted a few miles east to the small town of Cambridge and established the university there. King Henry III protected the scholars and in 1284 Peterhouse was established by the Bishop of Ely.
- Its alumni include Wordsworth, Coleridge, Bryon, Milton, Newton, Darwin and the father of computing Charles Babbage, another great computing genius Alan Touring, Sir Frances Bacon and so many more.
- The webcam was also invented in Cambridge to keep an eye on the common room coffee pot.
- Cambridge alumni have won 88 Nobel prizes, 8 Fields medals and two Able prizes.
- Tuition fees in 2011 are £9000 per year.
Potted History of Harvard
- Founded by Cambridge alumnus John Harvard, in 1636. He generously bequeathed his library and half his estate to the university. Situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- TS Eliot, John Updike, Barack Obama, John F Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Alfred Kinsey, Robert Oppenheimer.
- Student fees are US$ 33,000+ per annum.
While this is yet another proud moment in Cambridge’s history, the future must be monitored and vigorously defended against cuts in funding and increases in student fees that may eventually affect the quality of research and teaching and the standing of a great international higher education institution with a long and proud history of extending our knowledge of the world and how it works.