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Study abroad : Destination Guides

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020: An analysis of the top 50

US universities dominate the rankings while UK universities fall behind, and Asian institutions climb the ranks

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This year’s Times Higher Education University Rankings are out, and we’ve done some investigating to help you make sense of the results. The rankings indicate that US universities are coming out on top while the leading UK universities fall slightly behind and Asian universities are creeping up the rankings.


The Times Higher Education University Rankings 2020 includes nearly 1,400 institutions from 92 countries to provide students with a resource for comparing and evaluating educational providers around the world.


It’s also important to note that some of the year on year changes are minor and many other factors are worth considering when assessing universities. These include location, clubs and societies, programmes and facilities.


In this article we focus mainly on the position of universities in the UK, USA and Canada as top study abroad destinations and look specifically at the teaching quality of popular subjects, namely medicine and dentistry, computer science and engineering.


Let’s kick off with the UK. Oxford University has once again come out on top and sits in 1st place for the fourth consecutive year. According to an analysis by Times Higher Education (THE), top UK institutions such as Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, London School of Economics and Political Science, UCL and the University of Edinburgh have all fallen by one place. In total, 18 of the 28 UK universities have fallen to a lower position in the table based on their overall score. The same analysis suggests that this decline may be due to UK institutions having less funding than other leading study destinations and therefore less scope for research and growth.


Subject analysis

Medicine and Dentistry

Medicine and dentistry are both consistently popular subjects for students around the world. Within the UK, the following institutions came out on top for teaching in 2020: (1st) University of Cambridge, (2nd) University of Oxford, (3rd) Imperial College London, (4th) UCL and (5th) University of Edinburgh.


In comparison to the 2019 rankings, these institutions have remained in the same position. A few noticeable changes include Bristol University moving from 10th to 12th place while Queen Mary University has shot up the rankings from 23rd to 17th for these subjects.


On a global scale, the top institutions for these subjects are: (1st) Stanford University, (2nd) University of Cambridge, (3rd) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4th) University of Oxford and (5th) The University of Chicago.



Computer Science

Oxford University comes out on top for computer science and has remained in 1st place when comparing the 2019 and 2020 rankings. In fact, the top five institutions have remained the same in terms of teaching quality in the UK for computer science, namely (1st) University of Cambridge, (2nd) Oxford University, (3rd) Imperial College London, (4th) UCL and (5th) The University of Edinburgh. That being said, there has been some movement within the rankings for UK institutions for this course. The University of Durham has risen two places from 11th to 9th place and Queen Mary University of London has climbed from 28th to 19th.


From an international perspective, the top institutions for this course in 2020 are, (1st) Stanford University, (2nd) California Institute of Technology, (3rd) Yale University, (4th) University of Cambridge and (5th) Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



Engineering is another popular course of study, so we’ve taken a closer look at UK universities in the league tables to help you make sense of the trends and changes. One alteration sees Bristol University dropping from 10th to 13th place in the last year for teaching quality of general engineering courses. The University of Liverpool however has risen from 24th to 21st place and Queen’s University Belfast has increased from 34th place to 28th. Another change includes Northumbria University which now places within the top 50 for teaching quality of engineering courses in the UK, up from 54th in 2019.


How do UK universities perform for engineering in relation to the rest of the world you may ask? According to the 2020 league table, there has been some change to the positions of top global institutions for this course. A total of 7/10 institutions for teaching quality in engineering are USA based with two from the UK (University of Cambridge and Oxford University) and one from China (Peking University). Stanford University has climbed from 2nd to 3rd place with California Institute of Technology falling from 1st to 2nd. Yale University has impressively jumped from 6th to 3rd place, replacing Cambridge University which has dropped by one position.



The USA is a major higher education destination and it’s no surprise that American institutions are dominating the 2020 rankings. There is a total of 25 universities based in the USA within the top 50 institutions worldwide based on teaching quality. The rankings indicate that there have been adjustments to the positions of American institutions such as Princeton University which rose from 7th to 5th position and Duke University which fell from 10th to 12th place.


Medicine and Dentistry

While several of the top US institutions have remained in the same place since 2019, there have also been some key changes. Within the top five universities for the teaching quality of medicine and dentistry courses, Harvard University has risen from 4th to 3rd position, replacing Chicago University. Minnesota University has declined from 19th in 2019 to 25th in 2020. In general, universities are dropping or increasing by one place which doesn’t represent a seismic shift. Therefore, you may not want to base your decision on where to study based on the difference of just one or two positions in a league table.


Computer Science

In the 2020 league tables, the top five US universities for computer science are: (1st) Stanford University, (2nd) California Institute of Technology, (3rd) Yale University, (4th) Massachusetts Institute of Technology and (5th) Princeton University. In comparison to 2019, The Californian Institute of Technology has fallen from 1st to 2nd position with Stanford University taking its place. Similarly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology has fallen from 3rd to 4th. As with the UK, most US universities have moved one or two places in general which can be seen when looking at the rankings.




Perhaps you’ve been looking to study engineering in the US. The Times Higher Education rankings could help you decide which universities come out on top of your list. The latest table shows that there are seven US universities in the top ten for teaching quality of engineering courses. Much of the top 50 institutions have the same pattern of moving up or down a couple of places but there are a few universities which have had made more significant moves on the table. For example, the University of California, Davis has moved up from 25th to 22nd and Texas A&M University has fallen from 28th to 35th. One particularly large increase was the University of Miami which in 2019, placed 54th and rose 5 places to sit at 49th.



Medicine and Dentistry

There have consistently been three Canadian universities within the top 50 institutions for medicine and dentistry when comparing the 2019 and 2020 rankings. These institutions are the University of Toronto (1st), McGill University (2nd) and The University of British Colombia (3rd). Western University has moved from 7th place in 2019 to 6th in 2020 and Ottawa University has increased from 9th to 8th place.


Computer Science

For the past two THE rankings, there have been two Canadian institutions within the top 50 universities for teaching quality of computer science. Firstly, Toronto University has risen from 27th to 26th position and McGill University has jumped up the table from 45th to 42nd. Within Canada, the top five institutions have remained the same for 2019/2020: (1st) University of Toronto, (2nd) McGill University, (3rd) University of British Colombia, (4th) University of Montreal and (5th) University of Alberta.



On a global scale, for both the 2019 and 2020 rankings, Canada has had three universities within the top 50 for engineering. In 2019, The University of Toronto placed 24th but has altered its position to 23rd in the 2020 table. McGill University has moved up two places in the table from 39th in 2019 to 37th in 2020 and The University of British Colombia has also risen up the rankings from 50th to 48th


In this article we focused on the top 50 institutions for the UK, USA and Canada but there are many more prestigious and impressive universities which fall outside of the top 50. This is just a snapshot of the rankings to give you an idea of the leading universities for popular fields of study. We advise that you take a look at the rankings and browse through the top 350. All you need to do is click on the institution and find out more about the required grades to see what your expectations should be.


Want to start looking at courses and universities for yourself? Start your journey today.


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