Education and Skills

These are the best universities in the world for 2023 – and the balance is shifting

best universities in the world Times Higher Education World University Rankings  2023

With Saudi Arabia and UAE featuring in the list of the best universities in the world by Times Higher Education, we await a new renaissance driven by innovation and knowledge creation, backed by investment. Image: Photo by Pixabay

Phil Baty
Chief Global Affairs Officer, Times Higher Education
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Education and Skills?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation 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:


Listen to the article

  • The US share of the 100 best universities in the world is declining, while that of East Asian nations and universities in the Middle East is on the up.
  • Saudi Arabia and UAE are leading what some call a new renaissance driven by innovation and knowledge creation, backed by investment.
  • Fears remain that rising geopolitical tensions and mistrust hamper global research excellence.

The geopolitics of knowledge is shifting. The 19th annual edition of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, published on 12 October, demonstrates an accelerating trend: the US’s share of the world’s top 100 universities is declining, while that of East Asian nations, led by China, and universities in the Middle East is on the rise.

Have you read?

In 2018, the US boasted close to half of the world’s top 100 positions in the world rankings, with 43 universities. In today’s edition, the US has just 34, as household names like Dartmouth College, and great regional powerhouse universities including Ohio State and Michigan State lose their top 100 status.

Meanwhile, mainland China’s share of the world top 100 positions has risen from just two in 2018, to an impressive seven today. Hong Kong has a further five top 100 institutions, up from just three in 2018.

South Korea has three top 100 places, up from two in 2018. Singapore and Japan both takes two top 100 places each.

best universities in the world Times Higher Education World University Rankings
China's Tsinghua University ranks 16 among the best universities in the world, while it tops in Asia.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading what some are calling a new renaissance driven by innovation and knowledge creation, backed by heavy investment. Saudi’s King Abdulaziz University is one of the fastest-rising universities in the world, rocketing to 101st position this year from 190th last year, and the Kingdom is the most improved nation, by national average score, in the world rankings this year. In the UAE, of the six UAE universities included in the overall world rankings for 2023, five are on the rise – led by the United Arab Emirates University and the University of Sharjah, which have both surged this year into the world's top 300 list.

Shifts in global innovation and knowledge economy

The Times Higher Education’s (THE) world ranking has become a closely watched barometer of the shifts in the global innovation and knowledge economy, supporting governments policymaking and university leaders’ strategic decisions, as well as supporting millions of internationally-mobile students to decide on who to trust with their education.

The World University Rankings are based on 13 separate performance metrics, covering the full range of internationally-focussed research universities’ core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The 2023 edition is based on an analysis of over 15.5 million research publications – and over 112 million citations to those publications – as well as a survey of more than 40,000 academics worldwide on the international academic reputation of each school, on top of data on institutional income and faculty demographics, including international talent recruitment and research collaboration.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about shaping the future of the Arab region?

So, should the data be a cause for alarm for the US and its Western allies in an increasingly polarised world? No, says Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, because there are simply more outstanding universities in the world and a rising tide lifts all boats.

“There’s no evidence that US research is weakening in an absolute sense,” Marginson told Times Higher Education. “This continues to be the most prestigious system in the world.”

But where there is cause for mounting concern is in the fear that increasing geopolitical tensions and mistrust means the world as a whole does not fully benefit from the overall boom in global research excellence, as systems retreat into nationalism and knowledge sharing shrinks back.

For example, while China’s universities excel and rise up the rankings, their scores for international research collaboration and their share of international talent are in decline. “It would be regrettable if the growth of foreigners working in higher education in China has stopped as the engagement is good for everyone,” Marginson told THE. “However, it would be unsurprising, as we are now in a more conflictual era in the geopolitics of higher education.”

Top of the (university) class

Top of the World University Rankings for the seventh consecutive year, is a university renowned for its international knowledge sharing – the UK’s University of Oxford. Oxford is followed by Harvard University in second, while the University of Cambridge (up from 5th) and Stanford University (up from 4th) share third place. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology holds fifth place.

In a further nod to the US decline, the University of Chicago has lost its world top-10 place, falling to 13th, with the UK’s Imperial College London taking its place, moving up from 12th last year, to 10th in 2023.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings best universities in the world
Most US institutes take top spots in the best universities in the world rankings by the Times Higher Education.

Oxford’s vice chancellor Louise Richardson said in a statement: “My colleagues and I are absolutely delighted that for the seventh consecutive year Oxford has been named the top university in the world. I am very grateful to those who work on compiling these rankings which prove so helpful to universities. Above all, I am indebted to the extraordinary women and men of Oxford whose research and teaching continues to excite our imaginations, broaden our horizons, cure disease and explore deeply difficult problems for the betterment of society. I am so proud to be associated with them.”

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:
Education and SkillsGeo-Economics and Politics
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.

Why we need global minimum quality standards in EdTech

Natalia Kucirkova

April 17, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum