The University of Oxford is top in a list of the best universities in the UK, which includes institutions in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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1. University of Oxford
One of the most prestigious universities in the world, and one of the oldest, the University of Oxfordattracts top scholars and students to its 44 colleges and halls. Entry standards are high and admissions are competitive; on average it receives around five applications for each available place.
As is common in the UK, the university offers a number of joint honours programmes that combine two subjects at undergraduate level. In total, there are 250 different undergraduate degree combinations. The combination of philosophy, politics and economics is a particularly prestigious degree course on offer, although it is no longer unique to the University of Oxford.
Undergraduates and postgraduates belong to a college and often live in the college building or college-owned accommodation. Social life and recreational activities – such as rowing, cultural events and shared-interest societies – also revolve around the college. Undergraduates are taught almost exclusively by tutors in their college, while postgraduate students are primarily served academically by a centralised faculty.
There are more than 100 libraries in Oxford, the most famous of which is the Bodleian, built in 1602. The small town also boasts a number of museums, including the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which houses the remains of a dodo, and the Museum of the History of Science, which displays a blackboard used by Albert Einstein.
More than 30 world leaders, 26 British prime ministers, 26 Nobel prizewinners and more than 120 Olympic medallists were educated at Oxford. Stephen Hawking, Hugh Grant and Indira Gandhi are among the most famous alumni.
Within six months of graduating from the university, 95 per cent of Oxford students are in employment or further study.
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2. University of Cambridge
Like Oxford, the University of Cambridge is fundamentally collegiate and is also one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. The town is based just an hour’s drive from London.
The university is home to more than 18,000 students and 9,000 staff. There are 31 colleges, some of which date back to the 13th century, and more than 100 academic departments.
Cambridge is particularly renowned for excellence in mathematics and has educated some of the most famous British scientists throughout history. In total, there have been 92 Nobel prizes awarded to academics affiliated to the university and Cambridge-affiliated mathematicians have won a number of Fields Medals.
Getting a place at the university as an undergraduate is extremely competitive; the acceptance rate is less than 25 per cent and more than half of rejected candidates go on to receive A grades for all their final school exams.
Undergraduates are taught in lectures and supervisions – intimate tutorials with only a couple of other students at most. The workload is heavy but terms are shorter than at many other universities in the UK.
Cambridge libraries are home to extensive collections of medieval manuscripts and the university museums display collections of archaeological artefacts and zoological specimens.
Notable graduates include actors, politicians, royals, sportsmen and sportswomen and cultural figures.
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3. Imperial College London
Imperial College London is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the world for science, technology, engineering, medicine and business.
It was formed in 1907 from a merger of three colleges in London and now has 15,200 students and 8,000 staff. The student cohort is extremely international and is made up of more than 125 nationalities.
In addition to top scientists, Fields medallists and Nobel prizewinners, Imperial also produces influential government advisers and policymakers. Many graduates go on to achieve breakthrough innovations in industry and business, and are highly sought after by blue chip companies and start-ups.
Imperial is based next to Kensington Palace in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with other campuses around the city.
The author H. G. Wells and Sir Liam Donaldson, head physician to the Queen, are among Imperial’s famous alumni.
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4. University College London
University College London (UCL) was the first university in England to admit students irrespective of class, race or religion, and the first to admit women on equal terms with men, following the educational philosophy of Jeremy Bentham – the university’s “spiritual founder”.
It is one of the most selective British universities, ranking highly in college league tables, and it is thought to produce some of the most employable graduates.
UCL’s main campus is in the central London area of Bloomsbury.
For undergraduate admission, candidates generally have all A grades at A level or a grade equivalent of 6, 6, 6 in subjects studied at higher level in the International Baccalaureate. The most competitive degree is the BSc in philosophy, politics and economics, which receives 30 applicants for every place.
Close to half of all UCL students are from outside the UK, with significantly more from Asia than from continental Europe. Famous alumni include Mahatma Gandhi; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who met the other members of his band at the university.
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5. London School of Economics and Political Science
Of all UK universities, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has the highest proportion of international students, at 70 per cent.
The university has particular strengths in law, economics, history, philosophy and politics. Currently, 26 per cent of all Nobel prizes for economics were awarded to alumni or affiliates of the LSE. Famously, economic theorists at the LSE have long disputed with theorists at Cambridge, particularly over solutions to economic problems in society.
LSE’s campus is in the Clare Market area, close to important institutions including the Royal Courts of Justice, Lincoln’s Inn, the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Museum.
In 2014, the university received 17,000 undergraduate applications for 1,500 places. Like other top universities in the UK, the LSE generally requires entry standards of A grades or higher.
Many of the postgraduate courses, such as in those in economics, management and law, have an acceptance rate of less than 7 per cent.
Prominent cultural, political and academic figures, including Nelson Mandela and George Soros, have given public lectures at the LSE as part of the university’s prestigious lecture series.
The main architect of the Indian constitution, B.R. Ambedkar, worked on a doctoral thesis at the LSE while enrolled on the Bar course at Gray’s Inn in London.