Best universities in Europe 2020
Best universities in Europe 2020
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Best universities in Europe 2020

Every year, a certain number of respectable ranking sources carry out their global results in the form of complex data brought down to a simple number. Better known as ranks, these numbers position involved universities from around the world in a specific order – indicating that some higher education institutions are holders of more advantages - in terms of performance - than others.

In this article, we would like to introduce you to the nature of such advantages, and present more insights on the ranking systems as well as 2020 results for Europe of two sources that we often reach out to in many of our blog articles – Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings and QS Top Universities.

How do ranking sources work?

Starting with THE´s World University Rankings, the methodology behind their ranking system is based on performance indicators. These are grouped into five basic areas – citations, industry income, international outlook, research and teaching, all contributing towards the build-up of each respective rank of included universities around the globe More precisely, we are talking about more than a thousand higher education institutions from almost 90 countries, worldwide.

By contrast, the team behind QS World University Rankings relies more on the evaluation of metrics – academic reputation, citations per faculty, employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, international faculty ratio and international student ratio. In total, 1,002 universities hold a rank in the 2020 version of this ranking source – with many differences visible even in the global top ten when compared to THE´s World University Rankings.

To sum up, both sources have developed unique systems that collect both quantitative and quality-related data for the sole aim of providing academics, companies, media, and most importantly – students, with objective university rankings. One might even say, that this is how universities get graded and receive an overall mark for their work every year! But hey, we are here to also find out more about the top-performing European universities for 2020.

Before doing so, it is worth mentioning that in the paragraphs above, we have only focused on the world university ranking methodologies of our chosen sources. It makes sense that we now proceed with the results from this same category, as opposed to many others that Times Higher Education and QS Top Universities concentrate on – for example, rankings based on subject-areas.

Top ten best universities in Europe for 2020

Times Higher Education´s World University Rankings 2020QS Top Universities World University Rankings 2020
University of OxfordUniversity of Oxford
University of CambridgeETH Zurich
Imperial College LondonUniversity of Cambridge
ETH ZurichUniversity College London
University College LondonImperial College London
London School of Economics and Political ScienceÉcole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
University of EdinburghUniversity of Edinburgh
LMU MunichUniversity of Manchester
King´s College LondonKing´s College London
École Polytechnique Fédérale de LausanneLondon School of Economics and Political Science


What immediately attracts our attention is, that in both cases, we can see very few European countries having university representatives in the top ten – starting with the United Kingdom, then Switzerland, and Germany, if we look at the left table from THE´s World University Rankings. Even more, two of these three countries are not members of the European Union.

From a historical point of view, the University of Cambridge used to take the #2 spot while Imperial College London and University College London seem to have now swapped positions, all according to a comparison with the same ranking for 2019 by QS Top Universities. But wait, there is more – the University of Edinburgh dropped one place in favour of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in 2020, yet another example of a worrying trend involving UK universities taking a step back in rankings as a result of fewer international students.

This situation is more or less dictated by the latest political events that have underwent within the country, and as we already mentioned – the ranking metrics behind QS Top Universities do include international student ratios. In the same manner, we can reach similar conclusions when comparing 2019 and 2020 world university rankings with Times Higher Education, with the only difference being that on European ground, King´s College London has climbed one position higher on behalf of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne for 2020.

Note: If you are particularly interested in studying a Masters at one of the three countries home to top ten of the best universities in Europe, you can follow the links below. Alternatively, the Masters Search console  can directly lead you to study programmes offered by some of the higher education institutions from the table.

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Masters in Germany
Masters in Switzerland
Masters in the UK
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