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University challenged – St Andrews breaks Oxbridge

The University of St Andrews is the top university in Scotland and second to Oxford in the UK, according to a new higher education ranking published today (5 September 2020).

The Guardian University Guide 2021 shows St Andrews splitting the Oxbridge duopoly for a second year in succession. Last year, the Guardian ranked St Andrews second to Cambridge. This year, Oxford takes top spot with Cambridge moving to third.

St Andrews ranking is by virtue of its high scores for student satisfaction and experience, graduate employment and the quality of its academic programmes.

For decades, the universities of Oxbridge had traditionally monopolised first and second place in every UK university league table, until last year. In recent years, no other university has ever finished higher than third place.

Staff and students at St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university, welcomed the news.

Professor Sally Mapstone, St Andrews Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said: “For a small Scottish university to be competing amongst the very best in the United Kingdom reflects our commitment to the highest standards of learning, teaching and student experience. Our warmest congratulations to Oxford on securing the top spot this year.

“This ranking is significant because it comes at a difficult period for students across the country who have experienced a year like no other, and are facing a very different university experience.

“It’s so important that while we encourage students to observe safe behaviour, we empower and support them to show what they can do during these enormously restrictive times.

“That is a priority for us in St Andrews.”

Dan Marshall, President of the St Andrews Students’ Association, said: “To receive this recognition from the Guardian is great news for St Andrews. I think it is a testament to the hard work and initiative of the students and staff who help make St Andrews so unique.”

The Guardian’s league table ranks universities according to: spending per student; the student/staff ratio; graduate career prospects; the grades applicants require to be offered a place; a value-added score that compares students’ entry qualifications with their final degree results; and how satisfied final year students are with their courses, based on results from the annual National Student Survey (NSS).

St Andrews was ranked first in the UK for student satisfaction.

St Andrews academic schools again performed strongly with the University ranking top in the UK for: Neuroscience, International Relations, History of Art, Media and Film Studies, Philosophy, Computer Science and Biosciences.


The Guardian University Guide 2021 is available online.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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