by Ray Fleming

The allegations of decline in educational standards in Britain are never- ending, starting with nursery schools and rising to universities. Almost everyone has an opinion but it is very difficult to get to the heart of the matter. One highly respected objective measure of the performance of UK universities is the annual QS World University Ranking whose 2012 results were published yesterday.

Last year Cambridge pipped Harvard in the United States for first place but they have both been moved down a peg by the arrival of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the top. (It could be said that MIT is not a true university because it specialises in science and technology -- but that's a debate for another day). The remaining seven places in the Top Ten are taken by University College. London, Oxford, Imperial College, Yale, Chicago, Princeton and Caltech in that order. So Britain has four in the top six -- a remarkable performance when population figures are factored in.

The QS Rankings take into account a range of criteria including research quality, graduate employability, and the international character of staff and the student body. The highest ranking outside Europe and North America is Hong Kong University's 23rd. Universities may only be a small part of the educational spectrum but if they do not aspire to and achieve excellence all education leading to them will suffer.