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European universities take just over 40 per cent of the places in the list of the best universities in the world.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 ranks almost 1,400 universities around the world. Just over 500 of them are universities in Europe.


A UK university – the University of Oxford – takes the top spot in our Europe table (and in the overall rankings), while 100 other UK universities appear in the league table. Germany is the next most-represented European country, with 48 institutions, many of them within the top 100.


Of the universities in mainland Europe, a Swiss institution – ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich – achieves the highest rank, making it into the top five in Europe and at joint number 13 in THE World University Rankings 2020.

The top 10 European universities include UK, Swiss and German institutions, but UK universities take most of the top spots.


Institutions were assessed on their teaching environment, research environment, citations (research influence), industry income and international outlook.

Elsewhere in Europe, Scandinavian countries perform well, with Sweden and Finland punching above their weight relative to their population size, with 12 and nine institutions respectively in the ranking. Sweden’s top university – the Karolinska Institute – is in the top 50 of the World University Rankings 2020, while Finland’s University of Helsinki makes the top 100. The Netherlands also performs very strongly.


In the Europe table, other strong performers relative to their population size include Denmark (seven universities – led by the University of Copenhagen) and the Republic of Ireland (nine universities in total).

Overall, more than 30 European countries are represented in the Europe 2020 ranking, including Spain, Russia, Greece and Belarus.


Top 5 universities in Europe


  1. University of Oxford

There is no specific date to mark the founding of the University of Oxford, but it is thought that it was established sometime in the 13th century. Since then, it has become one of the most prestigious universities in the world. However, women were not admitted to the university until 1878, and it wasn’t until 1920 that women were awarded degrees. The last of the all-male colleges began to accept women in 1974.

The university has the largest library system in the UK with more than 11 million volumes. There are also a number of museums and galleries including the Ashmolean, which is the oldest museum in the UK and the oldest university museum in the world. It holds significant collections and works from artists such as Michelangelo, Turner and Picasso.


  1. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is a public research university in the UK, established in the 13th century.

The university, like many other well-established institutions, has many traditions. Until 1909, a metre-long wooden spoon was presented to the student with the lowest passing honours grade in the final examinations of the mathematical tripos (one of the courses available at the university). The spoon is now on display in St John’s College.


  1. Imperial College London

Imperial College London is the only university in the UK to focus entirely on science, engineering, medicine and business.

The university has aimed to strengthen its ties with the rest of Europe by investing more than €15 million (£13 million) in new grants for researchers in all four faculties, launching a European Partners Fund to help develop new collaborations with European colleagues and working with the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation to discuss ways of strengthening European research ties.

The university attracts students from more than 125 countries every year and is considered one of the most international universities in the world.


  1. ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

ETH Zurich is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university. The institute has produced more than 20 Nobel prizewinners, including Albert Einstein.

About 35 per cent of the institution’s students are from abroad and the university has established an International Knowledge Base to forge research and teaching relationships across the world.


  1. UCL

UCL was the first university to be established in London and the first in the UK to be entirely secular and to admit students regardless of their religious beliefs.

It has been a member of the League of European Research Universities since January 2006 and is currently one of five British members (the others are the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and Imperial College London ).


The university has its main campus in central London, with a number of facilities across the city and a satellite campus in Doha, Qatar.


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