Cambridge holds onto top spot in Complete University League Table for the 10th year running

Nice try Oxford

Cambridge has topped the 2021 Complete University Guide Main League Table which has also reported ‘big changes in key subjects’ and ‘triumph at a regional level’. It has now held the top spot for 10 years.

Every year, The Complete University Guide produces a ‘Main’ League Table of universities, ranking them based on ten measures: Entry Standards, Student Satisfaction, Research Quality, Research Intensity, Graduate Prospects, Student-Staff Ratio, Spending on Academic Services, Spending on Student Facilities, Good Honours Degrees, and Completion.

This year’s Main League Table shows ‘stability at the top’, with Cambridge at the top, followed closely by Oxford, as well as very little overall movement in the top 10. The most significant climb seen in the high rankings is Kings’ College London which rose 5 places, breaking its way into the top 20.

Here are this year’s top ten universities:

2021 National Rank Rank last year
1 Cambridge 1
2 Oxford 2
3 St Andrews 3
4 London School of Economics 4
5 Imperial College London 5
6 Loughborough 8
7 Durham 6
8 Lancaster 7
9 Bath 9
10 University College London 10

The Complete University Guide also produces an Arts, Drama and Music League Table, as well as 70 Subject League Tables.

The Guide noted that, in particular, Medicine has seen a considerable increase in views over the past few months, likely the result of current attention to the medical profession and the coronavirus pandemic. The Medicine League Table has been described as one of the most ‘turbulent’, with ‘considerable movement up and down’ and the addition of Buckingham as a new entry. In particular, Cambridge fared less well in medicine this year, falling 5 places to rank 7th in the league table.

There have been several regional takeaways from the Main League Table, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales described as having ‘good years’. Russell Group universities, on the other hand, have had a less successful year overall, with a few ‘big fallers’ and ‘fewer prominent climbers’ when compared to Post 92 universities (universities founded after 1992) and specialist universities who have had a more positive year.

Breaking down the Regional Takeaways in more details:


The order of Welsh universities has kept its general order, with Cardiff retaining the top spot and climbing the Nursing League Table. In the Main League Table, 4 Welsh universities have climbed significantly.

Northern Ireland 

Queens’ Belfast climbed 10 places in the Main League Table to 27th place, as well as climbing 9 places in the Medicine League Table to 14th place.


St Andrews maintained its ranking of 3rd place in the Main League Table, whilst 3 Edinburgh universities climbed and 2 Glaswegian universities fell. Scotland fared very well in the Medicine League Table as Dundee and Glasgow climbed to joint 1st place.


The top 3 institutions remained stable, whilst Westminister is the biggest faller in the Main League Table rankings.

East England 

Cambridge has now spent a decade at the number one spot. However, both Cambridge and East Anglia fell in the Medicine League Table.

South West 

Bournemouth fell 16th places to rank 86th, whilst Arts University Bournemouth was one of the biggest climbers, up by 17 places and now ranking 48th.

South East 

Oxford kept its 2nd place position but ultimately was unable to dethrone Cambridge. Meanwhile, Sussex fell 8 places to 40th.

West Midlands 

Harper Adams remains the top new university, but was one of the biggest fallers, dropping 14 places to rank 41st in the Main League Table.

East Midlands 

Bishop Grosseteste was amongst the biggest climbers, up 13 places to rank 106th. Loughborough improved its rank by 2 places to rank 6th in the Main League Table.

Yorkshire and Humber

Hull went up 17 places to rank 64th, whilst York climbed 8 places to rank 22nd.

North West 

Liverpool lost its top 30 status, falling 5 places to rank 33rd.

Cambridge received a special mention from Simon Emmet, CEO at IDP Connect, owners of the guide, who said:

Congratulations to the University of Cambridge, who have maintained their position at the top of the table for a decade. It’s been interesting to see changes at both a regional, national and subject level this year, we’ve seen a big increase in interest in courses related to Medicine, making the changes in those already popular tables particularly significant this year.”

Cover image credit: © Christopher Hilton –