Education and Skills

These are the world's best universities in 2021

The sign at Building 76 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., November 21, 2018.

A run down of the world's best universities, based on the QS rankings, in their respective geographies. Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Sean Fleming
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  • MIT stays at the top for the ninth consecutive year in the QS World University Rankings.
  • The top 10 is made up of universities from the UK, the US and one from Switzerland.
  • The National University of Singapore, which is ranked 11th, is the highest placed institution outside of Europe or North America.

More Asian universities than ever before feature in the world’s top 1,000 universities, but the top 10 is dominated by US institutions, according to the latest QS World University Rankings.

From the 10 highest placed, five are from the US – including all of the top three. Of the remaining five, four are in the UK and one is in Switzerland. The highest placed outside of Europe or North America is the National University of Singapore, which was ranked 11th.

QS evaluates 5,500 universities for inclusion in its list of 1,029 of the most prestigious universities in the world - and there are 47 new entrants this year.

The “most impressive gains” were made by Asian universities this year, according to QS, with 26 institutions from the continent now featuring in the rankings.

The methodology assesses each institution on six metrics: reputation amongst academics and employers, international student ratio, international faculty ratio, faculty student ratio and citations per faculty.

QS World University Rankings 2021 - Top 10
The global top 10 has changed little since last year. Image: QS Quacquarelli Symonds

Here is our rundown of the world's best universities, based on the QS rankings, in their respective geographies. We have highlighted the highest performing in each region, along with some other notable institutions.

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North America

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has ranked as the world number one for the past nine years. Across all the categories measured by QS, MIT scored full marks. Hard on its heels in second place is Stanford University, on the other side of the US, near Silicon Valley, while Harvard, Caltech and the University of Chicago complete those in the top 10. The highest placed Canadian institution is the University of Toronto (joint 25th with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US).

Latin America

The Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina was ranked joint 66th in the world, making it the highest placed university in Latin America. It is followed by Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), which was ranked 100th and the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) – ranked joint 115th – from Brazil.


Asian universities have climbed up the rankings this year - and there are now 26 in total in the top 1,000. The highest ranking among them is the National University of Singapore, in 11th place. It is closely followed by the Nanyang Technological University (also in Singapore) in 13th place. China’s best placed university is Tsinghua University – ranked at 15th.


The two highest placed African universities are both in South Africa, although they are far apart in the rankings. At number 220, there is the University of Cape Town. But you have to go as far as 403rd place to find the next one – the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The American University in Cairo, Egypt, – ranked joint 411th – is Africa’s third highest performing university.


The European top five also appear in the global top 10: the University of Oxford, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London.


Essentially made up of Australia and New Zealand, the highest ranked institution in the region is the Australian National University in Canberra (31 in the global list). It is followed by the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne, which rank at 40 and 41, respectively.

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