That's the question students in Britain are now asking after the publication of the Times Higher Education World Reputations Rankings 2014, which is based on the responses of over ten thousand academics from 133 countries.
According to these academics, who were each asked to nominate the institutions they feel are the best in their field of expertise, the reputation of British universities has significantly fallen over the last few years. Since 2011, when the list was first published, three British universities, Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol have left the top 100. This means that the UK now has just ten entries in the list. Whether this decrease is because of a reduced level of funding or due to other countries improving their standards, or indeed a mixture of the two, it's certainly not good news for Britain and her students. What is clear is that British universities can no longer rely on past glories alone.
Regarding those that did make the list, Cambridge University is the highest ranked British university, coming in at number four, having dropped from third last year. Oxford is just behind in fifth, also having dropped one place. In what is at least some positive news, London is the most well-represented city in the world with six entries in the list; Imperial College (13), LSE (24), UCL (25), King's College (43), London Business School (93) and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (94). Edinburgh (46) and Manchester (56) have consolidated their positions in the middle of the list.
Those behind the list say that the decreased number of British institutions is "worrying evidence of reputational decline among UK institutions." Speaking to the Telegraph, Bahram Bekhradnia from the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that the survey indicated that the UK is still punching above its weight, but stressed his concern at "the apparent deterioration in the reputation of a number of our universities. At a time when despite economic problems others have sought to protect their research investment, we have seen a real-terms decline.”
The US is, not surprisingly, the dominant supplier of world-class academic institutions with almost half the total in the list. In fact, the top eight are American; Harvard is in first place followed by MIT in second and Stanford in third. A spokesman for the Times Higher Education supplement commented that American is the "undisputed superpower when it comes to university brands".
Does this mean that a British degree is worth less? In the short term, no. Degrees from any of the British entries in the list, and indeed the dozens of other excellent universities up and down the country that didn't make the list, are still highly regarded in the UK and beyond. However, if this trend continues and British institutions fall further behind, it may well start to have an impact on the value of a British degree, particularly for those looking to gain employment outside the UK.
In an increasingly globalised society, the choice of university is becoming more and more important. In order to secure the best jobs, it's necessary to have the best qualifications possible. If British universities are falling behind in the global leagues, then British students will have to seriously consider the option of studying abroad.
If you are interested in the possibility of studying abroad, whether as an undergraduate or postgraduate, a good place to start is the Top Universities web site. It has a wealth of information on numerous institutions around the world and offers rankings and guidance to help you make a choice.
Image by Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons