The UK ranks second only to the USA when it comes to world-leading life sciences and medicine research, according to a new in-depth study

The QS World University Rankings by Subject places 13 UK universities in the top 30 for life sciences and medicine, in tables based on the expert opinion of over 85,000 academics and nearly 42,000 employers, alongside analysis of 17.3 million research papers and more than 100 million citations. The only country with more top 30 universities for the same discipline is the USA with 32.

Welcoming the news, Executive Chair of MedCity Dr Eliot Forster said that the UK’s priority should be not only to carry out world-class research but to nurture an environment in which it can be applied and commercialised more easily. He says:

“It comes as no surprise to see UK universities ranked so highly for life sciences. Our reputation for high quality, innovative research is well-established and undisputed, and it’s striking that in terms of numbers we are nipping at the heels of a country that is geographically nearly 40 times our size. The big question is how we commercialise that great research to make sure we reap the economic rewards of the leading-edge work we have invested in, rather than see it go overseas.

“At the moment, too much of the health-related research that the UK has been instrumental in pushing forward is developed commercially in the great clusters in Massachusetts and Silicon Valley. And the primary reason for that is capital – there is simply far greater investment available for entrepreneurs to develop and grow a successful business in the USA.

“We need to work hard to support UK investors to understand the life sciences sector, so they can take advantage of the huge opportunities it offers to make great returns – as well as to support the development of therapies and technologies with the potential to improve quality of life for thousands of people.”

The life sciences and medicine table covers agriculture, biology, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, psychology and veterinary science. UK institutions ranked in the top 30 are:

  • University of Bristol – ranked joint eleventh for veterinary science
  • Cambridge University – ranked second for biology, second for psychology, third for medicine, fourth for pharmacy and eighth for veterinary science
  • University of Edinburgh – ranked joint ninth for veterinary science and twenty second for biology
  • University of Glasgow – ranked seventh for veterinary science
  • Imperial College London – ranked joint eleventh for medicine, fifteenth for biology and twenty eighth for pharmacy
  • King’s College London – ranked seventh for dentistry, twelfth for pharmacy, twenty second for psychology and twenty fourth for medicine
  • University of Liverpool – ranked joint ninth for veterinary science
  • University of Manchester – ranked seventeenth for pharmacy and joint twenty first for dentistry
  • University of Nottingham – ranked eighth for pharmacy
  • University of Oxford – ranked second for medicine, third for pharmacy, third for biology and fourth for psychology
  • University College London – ranked fifth for pharmacy, ninth for psychology, tenth for medicine, thirteenth for dentistry, and seventeenth for biology
  • University of Reading – ranked nineteenth for agriculture
  • Royal Veterinary College – ranked third for veterinary science

Altogether the new rankings cover a total of 36 disciplines, in which 79 UK universities are featured. The UK has secured 14% of the top 50 spots available, second only to US universities, which take 36.6% of top 50 places.

John O’Leary, member of the QS Global Academic Board, said: “UK universities show up well in virtually all the subjects – Oxford boasts the best performance as the only university to lead in more than one subject, but specialist providers like the Royal College of Art and the University College London Institute of Education are also shown to be world-leaders.”

In September 2014 the separate QS World University Rankings named Cambridge and Imperial the world’s second best universities behind MIT at number one and ahead of Harvard at four. Overall, eight UK universities were placed in the top 30 – Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford, UCL, King’s College London, Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester. See the overall rankings here:

Launched in April 2014 to grow the life sciences cluster of London and the south east, MedCity is working with a range of partners to increase the level of investment available to life sciences companies. In January 2015 it held its inaugural Future of Healthcare Investor Forum jointly with the London Stock Exchange to showcase the range of opportunities for investors in life sciences. In September, it launched Angels in MedCity, a series of free workshops and pitching events designed to build a community of angel investors focused specifically on early-stage life sciences companies.

Dr Forster adds:

“As a region, London and the wider south east has confidence, ambition and large-scale investment in its life sciences research base, and we are firmly in the world’s spotlight. Businesses across the world are attracted here by opportunities to partner with our academic research centres and NHS to be part of the accelerating process of commercialising terrific innovations. The opportunities for investors are tremendous.”


Notes for editors

QS World University Rankings by Subject

Since 2011, QS has extended the scope of the world’s rankings to include the evaluation of 36 individual disciplines. The methodology utilizes adaptive weightings for the four criteria, to take into account the differences among disciplines. Details of the methodology can be found at

The rankings are based on research citations, alongside reputational surveys of over 126,000 academics and graduate employers worldwide.

Universities selected by academics in at least one subject 3,551
Institutions ranked in at least one subject 2,186
Within published range in at least one subject 894
Within top 200 in at least one subject 835
Within top 100 in at least one subject 512
Within top 50 in at least one subject 310
Research paper attributions counted 17.3m
Citation attributions counted  100m
Self-citations excluded 24.1m
Programs verified 14,074
Total survey responses( academics and employers) 126,972

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