British universities are sliding down the world rankings as a result of increased pressure to focus on diversity rather than excellence, experts say.
This year’s rankings, published by the Times Higher Education, showed of the leading British universities Cambridge has fallen from second to fourth place and Oxford from third place to fifth.
Phil Baty, the editor of the prestigious world university rankings, warned that “the UK’s diminishing performance occurs as institutions in Asia rapidly rise up the table; the continent has 18 representatives, up from 10 last year.”
The Express reports that the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, Alan Smithers, criticised “government interference” that insists universities increase their intake of students from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Its current polices are causing universities to take their eye off the ball of recruiting the best to comply with Government demands to increase the proportions entering and graduating from state schools, ethnic minorities and postcodes from which, in the past, few students have come.”
As the UK’s top institutions of learning slide down the tables and the number of British universities in the world’s top 100 drops from 12 to just ten, Mr. Smithers expressed concern that the nation’s global standing is “in decline”.
Director General and Chief Executive of the Russell Group of universities, Dr. Wendy Piatt, said:
“While league tables shouldn’t be used in isolation to make judgments about the quality of institutions, the UK has, by any measure, some of the very best universities in the world.
“We outperform many larger nations but this is no time to rest on our laurels. These rankings can be seen as a warning that the rest of the world is catching up with us and Asian universities, in particular, are snapping at our heels. We risk losing out on further business and overseas funding unless there is greater investment in our world-class universities and a more risk-based, proportionate approach to regulation.”
In January, Prime Minister David Cameron announced new laws to force universities to publish data on applicants broken down by ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background and course.
The Daily Mail reported that Sir Anthony Seldon of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said he does not know of any university in Britain that doesn’t want to broaden its diversity, adding:
“But we should not expect too much of universities when for 25 years schools have been trying without significant impact to narrow social and ethnic achievement divides.
“Universities can lose focus if the impossible is expected of them.”