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Top 10 UK universities 2021

The 2021 UK university league tables have been published, and we've taken a look at the top 10 universities this time around.

university with trophy over it

Every year the Complete University Guide (CUG) publishes league tables that rank 130 UK universities (including 70 subject tables), plus an additional ranking of 14 Arts, Drama, and Music colleges and conservatoires. This is done by assessing different qualities and categories that are important to students, with the aim of helping them decide where to apply to uni.

We’ve taken a closer look at the top 10 unis that the UK has to offer for the upcoming year of study according to the CUG’s stats.

Have Oxford and Cambridge got a monopoly on the top of the table once again, or has another uni snatched the gold medal? And, most importantly, is your uni one of the best in the country?!

Looking for a global view? Check out the ranking of the best universities in the world.

How is the university league table ranked?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the top 10, we want to be clear that the CUG ranks UK universities based on a number of different measures.

It takes all of the following into account:

  • Entry Requirements indicating the average UCAS tariff score of new students entering the university
  • Student Satisfaction
  • Research Quality and Intensity
  • Graduate Prospects indicating the proportion of graduates in employment six months after leaving uni
  • Student-Staff Ratio
  • Academic Services Spend
  • Facilities Spend
  • Good Honours indicating the proportion of students graduating with a first or 2:1
  • Degree Completion indicating the proportion of students completing their degree and not dropping out of uni.

If you're looking at the league table in full, make sure to check out each uni's scores for the individual measures that matter most to you!

Find out how eco-friendly your uni is with the ranking of the greenest UK universities.

Best UK universities 2021

These are the 10 best universities in the UK:

  1. University College London (UCL)

    ucl university college london

    Credit: Neil Turner - Flickr

    Three really is the magic number for University College London. It's placed 10th for the last three years, finds itself third in the list of the best universities in London and, having been founded in 1826, UCL is also the third oldest university in England.

    But UCL is no stranger to leading the way, too, having been the first university to admit students of any race, class or religion, and to welcome women on equal terms with men.

    The university’s impressive mix of famous alumni includes Jonathan Ross, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.

  2. University of Bath

    university of bath

    Credit: Claudio Divizia - Shutterstock

    Stability is the name of the game at the University of Bath, placing ninth for a second consecutive year after three years in a row at 11th.

    The university has some of the best Graduate Prospects of any of the unis in the overall top 10 and is, of course, based in the stunning World Heritage Site city of Bath.

    While you may not recognise many of Bath's alumni by name, it's worth pointing out that a whole host of successful athletes studied there – including a tonne of Olympic medallists.

  3. Lancaster University

    lancaster university

    Credit: ClemRutter - Wikimedia

    Situated in the North West of England, Lancaster is one of the UK's 'new' universities established in the 1960s. The uni has a great reputation and has sat comfortably in the top ten ranking over the last few years.

    Despite dropping one place from last year, Lancaster still ranks third in the UK for Graduate Prospects and received the gold standard in the TEF Awards.

    Lancaster is one of only six collegiate universities in the UK, alongside the likes of Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham, and its eight undergraduate colleges are named after places of interest in the North West of England.

  4. Durham University

    durham university

    Credit: EQRoy – Shutterstock

    Durham University was founded in 1832 and was the first university to open in England for more than 600 years. It's consistently one of the highest-ranked universities in the UK and has the second-highest proportion of privately educated students in the country.

    Durham has its fair share of famous former students, too, including former Bond actor Roger Moore and the comedians Ed Gamble and Nish Kumar.

    Durham has excellent scores for Good Honours and Degree Completion according to CUG, but it does fall down slightly on its Student Satisfaction rating.

  5. Loughborough University

    loughborough university

    Credit: Phil McIver - Flickr

    Up two places from last year, Loughborough University makes the UK's top 10 for a fifth consecutive year. Hardly surprising when it was recently found to offer more value for money than any other university in the UK.

    The university, which is best known for its penchant for athletics (it was also Team GB's HQ during the London Olympics), ranks highly thanks (in part) to its great engineering department, as well as fashion and textiles.

    Loughborough places a lot of emphasis on students graduating with an all-round skillset. To this end, it offers every undergraduate student the chance to complete a year in industry as part of their degree if they want to.

  6. Imperial College London

    imperial college london uni

    Credit: Andrew Crump - Flickr

    Imperial College London was founded in 1907 – initially as part of the University of London, but becoming fully independent in 2007. Imperial specialises in science, engineering, business and medicine, and despite falling one place this year, makes the top five universities in the UK for the fifth year running.

    The university has around 18,000 students and among its alumni are the noted author H.G. Wells, and Brian May (the guitarist in Queen), the latter of whom studied astrophysics at the university.

    With a score of 90%, Imperial's Graduate Prospects are the second highest in the UK – so your chances of finding a job when you graduate are even better than if you'd studied at Oxford or Cambridge!

  7. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

    lse london school economics

    Credit: David Tansey - Flickr

    Number one in the list of the best universities in London, and fourth in the UK, the London School of Economics and Political Science has never finished outside of the top five in CUG's UK university rankings.

    The university’s list of famous alumni is also pretty impressive, and includes Mick Jagger, David Attenborough and even a former Prime Minister in the form of Clement Attlee.

    Fourth place in the CUG rankings is something to be proud of for LSE, going some way to dispel the disappointment of only receiving bronze in the TEF.

  8. University of St Andrews

    st andrews university

    Credit: stu smith - Flickr

    St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland, and although the exact foundation date is unknown, we know it was some time between 1410 and 1413.

    And, as you'll no doubt be aware, the university's alumni include the likes of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who met while studying there.

    The university consistently ranks as one of the best universities in the land, but it really seems to excel in Student Satisfaction – St Andrews beats all other universities in the UK with a score of 87%.

    That said, its Graduate Prospects are the lowest of all the other unis in the UK's top 10 – you can't have it all!

  9. University of Oxford

    oxford university

    Credit: Pablo Fernández - Flickr

    While the exact date of establishment is unknown, the University of Oxford is widely considered to be the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with evidence of teaching as far back as 1096.

    As you might expect, Oxford's list of famous alumni reads like a who's who of world-renowned names, including Stephen Hawking, J.R.R. Tolkien and Malala Yousafzai.

    Oxford scored 99% in the CUG’s rankings, showing just how narrow the gap between itself and the number one spot is. It's also worth noting that Oxford outperformed the uni in first place (as if you can't guess who it is...) in a number of categories, including Good Honours, Degree Completion and Student-Staff Ratio.

    This all being said, getting a place at Oxford doesn't guarantee you a top class degree – as one student found out when he tried to sue the university for £1m because he didn’t get a first!

  10. University of Cambridge

    Cambridge university

    Credit: Pajor Pawel - Shutterstock

    Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is the second oldest university in the UK. And, as you probably already know, Cambridge boasts a whole slog of well-known alumni including Richard Ayoade, Thandie Newton, Stephen Fry, Sir David Attenborough, to name just a few.

    Cambridge consistently occupies one of the top two spots on league tables for UK universities, and it's now ranked in first place for not one, not two, not three, but 10 years in a row.

    They also have a Professor of Lego, so it's hard to argue that the number one spot isn't well deserved!

    And don't let their elite reputation put you off – if you're unsure whether it's for you, take inspiration from our interview with Ibz Mo, the YouTuber smashing boundaries at Cambridge.

You can look at the full rankings table from The Complete University Guide and compare rankings for each subject as well as overall performance.

We're always told that UK unis are some of the best on the planet, but how do our cities rank? Find out the best places to study in the world.


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