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The UK has topped the Times Higher Education ranking for life sciences subjects for the first time, as the US loses ground and Asia records mixed results.
The University of Oxford is in pole position, while the University of Cambridge shares second place with Harvard University. The top five is completed by state rivals Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Although the US has 36 institutions in the top 100 – double the UK’s tally – three have fallen out of the table since last year. Its diminishing performance has also affected its top-ranked universities; it is the first time an institution outside the US has taken first place, and the country now has only 11 universities in the top 20, down from 13.
Abigail Fowden, head of the School of Biological Sciences at Cambridge, attributed part of its success to the fact that researchers are encouraged to work across disciplines and to think beyond the university.
“Cambridge and the surrounding region has some excellent research institutes and biotech companies as well as allied industry, which can lead to some productive collaborations, ” she said.
Switzerland punches well above its weight in the table, taking six places. Its highest-ranked institution is ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, which lies just outside the top 10 in 11th place. It has edged closer to this elite group each year, moving up 23 places in total since 2011.
Detlef Günther, vice-president for research and corporate relations at ETH Zurich, said the university has “three strong pillars to our life sciences research”.
“Firstly, the department of health sciences and technology, which aims to create the foundations for sustaining and improving the quality of life. Then in the department of biosystems science and engineering, biologists, engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians work towards a quantitative understanding and purposeful engineering of complex biological systems. And thirdly, the department of biology, which focuses on the cellular and molecular foundations of life, ” he said.
“The national initiative ‘SystemsX.ch’ [the Swiss Initiative in Systems Biology] was crucial for establishing quantitative biology within Switzerland.”
Meanwhile, Asia has had a varied performance. While the National University of Singapore joins the top 30 for the first time in 27th place and China makes its debut in the table (the University of Science and Technology of China is in joint 95th place), Japan has suffered. It now has just one university in the top 50 – the University of Tokyo in 45th place – down from three last year.
The THE subject rankings use the same 13 performance indicators as the flagship World University Rankings but are recalibrated with different weightings to suit each field.