Cambridge tops Harvard in world university rankings

The University of Cambridge claimed the top spot in the QS World University Rankings for 2011/2012, beating out Harvard for the second year in a row.

Institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom rounded out the top 10. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in third, followed by Yale University, the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

“While university league tables tend to over-simplify the range of achievements at institutions, it is particularly pleasing to note that the excellence of the transformative research, research that changes people’s lives, carried out at Cambridge is so well regarded by fellow academics worldwide,” Steve Young, senior pro-vice chancellor at Cambridge, said in a statement.

Several non-U.S. or U.K. institutions made the top 25, including McGill University, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Toronto and the University of Tokyo.

“There’s not much in it but British universities have the edge on international indicators, particularly international faculty, the proportion of staff who are from overseas,” Ben Sowter, head of research for the QS intelligence unit, told Bloomberg. “It’s a relevant factor.”

Bloomberg explained where the rankings come from:

The QS rankings are an annual league table of the top 600 universities in the world, devised by surveying each institution’s reputation among academics and employers. The respondents are asked how they view each university’s research output. More than 34,000 academics were surveyed this year.

Harvard had taken the top spot in the rankings every year from 2004 until last year. Sowter told Bloomberg that Cambridge's number one status could be threatened by changes to higher education funding made by the U.K. government.