Europe's highest ranked universities: Which countries have performed the best in the Global Top 100?

The position of Europe's universities in the Times' Global Top 100 has changed over the last decade.
The position of Europe's universities in the Times' Global Top 100 has changed over the last decade.   -   Copyright  Canva
By Servet Yanatma

In 2023, 36 of the Global Top 100 universities will be in Europe. This is a significant increase from 28 universities since the Times Higher Education’s 2011 World University Rankings report was released.

However, it is not the best performance in the last 13 years, as European countries had 42 universities in the Global Top 100 list in 2016.

Apart from three British universities, namely the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and Imperial College London (ICL), only ETH Zurich of Switzerland has ranked in the Top 10 in the last 13 years.

How have the best-ranking universities changed in Europe in the last decade and which European countries are doing well in terms of best-ranking universities?

How is the Times' Global Top 100 decided?

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings is a popular listing published annually, which in 2023 includes 1,799 universities from 104 countries and regions.

The list is prepared based on 13 indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer, and international outlook.

Being in the Global Top 10 is very prestigious for leading universities and, unsurprisingly, universities in the United States and the United Kingdom dominate the Top 10 rankings.

Only 13 different universities have succeeded in gaining Global Top 10 rankings since 2011. Four of them are in Europe whereas the other nine are in the US.

University of Oxford dominates the rankings

The University of Oxford was named the world’s top university for the seventh consecutive year in the 2023 Times Higher Education rankings.

The University of Cambridge was also in the Global Top 10 for that whole time period, whereas ICL managed to remain on the list for 11 years.

Switzerland’s ETH Zurich ranked ninth in 2016 and 2017, and tenth in 2018. 

Among the American institutions named in the Global Top 10 in this period were Harvard University, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of California Berkeley, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Which universities are doing well in Europe?

In the 2023 Times’ rankings, 15 European universities ranked among the world’s Top 50 institutions, and 36 were in the Top 100.

Apart from Oxford, Cambridge, ICL, and ETH Zurich, these include University College London (22), the University of Edinburgh (29), Technical University of Munich (30), LMU Munich (33), King’s College London (35), the London School of Economics and Political Science (37), the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (41), KU Leuven (42), Heidelberg University (43), Paris Sciences et Lettres - PSL Research University (47), and the Karolinska Institute (49).

Which European countries have universities in the Top 100?

The number of universities in Europe ranking in the Global Top 100 has varied over the last 13 years.

In 2011, 28 European universities were included, reaching a peak of 42 in 2016. The yearly average in this period has been 35.4 universities.

The UK has always ranked best in Europe and no other country has managed to surpass it.

The number of British universities in the Global Top 100 has ranged from 10 to 16 since 2011. Germany and the Netherlands have also had significant numbers of universities in the Global Top 100. Besides these three, no other European country, including France, has succeeded in having five universities in the Top 100. 

Universities from 12 European countries ranking in the Top 100

The UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France have had at least one university in the Top 100 every year since 2011.

In total, only 12 European countries – which includes the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, and Turkey - have had a university in the Top 100 at least once in this period, and three of them, namely Ireland (2011), Italy (2015), and Turkey (2015) achieved that only once.

20 countries/territories in the Top 100

American universities clearly dominate the Top 100, ranging from 53 institutions in 2011 to 34 in 2023.

The yearly average in this period has been 42.7 universities. Twenty countries and territories have had universities in the Top 100 at least once in the last 13 years.

In 2023, China and Australia had seven universities in the Top 100, whereas five in Hong Kong and four in Canada were included in the rankings.

The remarkable rise of China

In 2023, one of the most significant academic events is the rise of China. There are seven universities from mainland China in the Top 100, the highest number for this country since 2011.

China did not have more than three universities in the Top 100 until 2020. The number of universities in mainland China in the rankings increased from three to seven between 2019 and 2023. There are also five universities in Hong Kong that ranked in the Top 100 this year.

Tsinghua University (16) and Peking University (17) are the best-ranking institutions from China, receiving overall scores of 88.2 and 88.1 respectively.

The score of ICL, which ranked tenth this year, is 90.4. That suggests that these two Chinese universities are potentially approaching a breakthrough into the Top 10 rankings.

China has also recently overtaken the US in scientific research output.

China published 23.4 per cent of the world’s scientific papers between 2018 and 2020 according to a report by Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP).