Geographies in Depth

How the world's top universities are distributed

The rooftops of the university city of Oxford are seen from the south west,January 22, 2003. Britain's Education Secretary Charles Clarke is expectedon Wednesday to outline controversial plans to scrap the 1,100 pound ($1780)limit on annual tuition fees at English universities, raising it to as muchas 3,000 pounds ($4852). NO RIGHTS CLEARANCES OR PERMISSIONS ARE REQUIRED FOR THIS IMAGE REUTERS/Peter MacdiarmidPP03100126PKM/ASA/FMS - RTRH0XH

While Oxford came first, North America has the most good universities, finds Times Higher Education Image: REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid

Emma Luxton
Senior Writer , Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Geographies in Depth?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how United States is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

United States

Oxford has won the accolade of world’s best university, according to the latest Times Higher Education Rankings. It is the first time an institution from outside the United States has topped the list.

The ranking looks at 980 universities, which represent only the top 5% of the world’s higher education institutions. Seventy-nine countries feature in this elite list; however, the distribution of universities is far from even.

(Countries in white have no institutions in the 2016 ranking) Image: Times Higher Education

The domination in the rankings of Northern American universities is clear. During the previous 12 years no other nation has made it to first place, and the top 10 has consistently featured a majority of US institutions.

In 2016, 148 US universities made the rankings, and 63 made it into the top 200.


The United Kingdom, with 91 institutions on the list, is home to the largest number of top universities in Europe. It is the only country other than the US to feature more than one institution in this year’s top 10.

The one other country to make it into the top 10 is Switzerland, whose university ETH Zurich appeared in ninth place. (Nine other Swiss universities make the overall ranking.)

Germany, Italy, France and Spain all have more than 26 universities in the rankings. But as the Times Higher Education notes, many European nations are “losing ground as Asia continues its ascent”.


Although Western universities continue to dominate the highest spots, Asian institutions have been gaining ground. Overall, 289 Asian universities, from 24 countries, made it into the rankings – 19 of which reached the top 200, up from 15 the previous year.

The region’s best performing university has reached a new high this year. The National University of Singapore made it to 24th place, an increase of two positions.

China has more than 50 institutions in the rankings, and its leading establishment, Peking University, moved into 29th place, from 42nd last year.

Japan is Asia’s most represented nation, with 69 universities in the rankings. The University of Tokyo, Japan’s highest-ranking institution, just made it into the top 40, in 39th place.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is home to five top 200 universities.

Have you read?

However, only four of China’s 52 universities in the rankings made it into the top 200, while Japan only has two institutions.

After the US and UK, Germany and the Netherlands are the countries with the most elite universities.

Image: Times Higher Education
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Geographies in DepthEducation and Skills
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Talent trends in Asia: How to boost workforce productivity and well-being

Peta Latimer and Catherine Li Zhaoqi

June 20, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum