As Britain tops global university rankings, we must get Brexit right to stay there

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The Times Higher Education World University Rankings have, for the first time, named Oxford and Cambridge as the world’s two top universities. ABPI’s new Head of Education and Academic Liaison, Andrew Croydon, says this latest news adds to the weight of evidence that any Brexit deal should secure the UK’s access to the best science talent and research projects around the world.

​​​Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. At well over 900 years old, it exemplifies the UK's long history of leading in science and innovation. British-based pioneers have helped shape the modern world.

In medicine, these researchers have helped save millions of lives with discoveries such as penicillin, and have led efforts to unlock the structure of DNA, kick-starting a global revolution in personalised medicine and gene therapy. These talented individuals and their teams continue their endeavour today: as our universities and their researchers work in partnership with organisations such as Genomics England to sequence 100,000 genomes to give us a better understanding of rare diseases and how medical advances in cell and gene science can be turned into the medicines of tomorrow.

This year, Oxford has been named the best university in the world by Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Cambridge University has jumped from fourth to second. It is the first time in THE's history that two British universities have occupied the top spots.

Both universities have a long history of success in medicine and they have helped build the UK's world class Life Sciences sector. Now, thanks to talented researchers from across the globe and access to innovative research projects, British science and the industries that work alongside them – including pharmaceuticals – have flourished.

top 20 ip.pngUniversities in the UK benefit from links with the pharmaceutical industry in more ways the one. Besides ​funding for cutting-edge research, companies subsidise PhD studentship and researchers. The academic institutions above represent the top 20 in the UK by number of links with the pharmaceutical industry. ABPI, 2015 Here​

Oxford and Cambridge aren't our only universities to reap the rewards of Britain's strong science base and excellent academic-industry links.

Last year, the University of Leicester announced potentially 'game changing' results for future treatment of asthma after a major study supported by: ABPI member company Novartis; the UK's National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and the EU's lung project foundation AirPROM. In these newest rankings, Leicester has jumped from 172 to 159.

The University of Edinburgh, staying firmly in the top 30 universities in the world in these new rankings, is seeing success from their discovery partnership projects​ with GSK to discover a treatment for severe acute pancreatitis (SAP) and their work published in Nature Medicine is now progressing to clinical development with the potential to reduce significantly the incidence of SAP.

The UK's science and research strength has weathered nearly a thousand years of change because, as a country, we have always recognised the importance of being at the forefront of innovation. Our economy is intertwined with the success of those early pioneers and the universities and companies that supported them, and is built on access to the world's best and brightest talent to broaden the frontiers of our collective science understanding.

Science is an interconnected global endeavor, and as we look beyond our borders, Europe is again a leading region in THE'sWorld University Rankings, boasting more than half of the top-200 university spots. Yet these new rankings also show us that this status is under threat from the rest of world. So with that in mind, how do we ensure successes like these continue? In particularly following Brexit? THE's Editorial Director Phil Baty says that, "Brexit poses a huge risk to the success of UK universities in the future", and it's clear that Europe will need to work hard to ensure it can sustain its performance in future years.

As we look to Brexit negotiations, we think that there are two ways the UK and Europe can continue to be a global academic leader. Negotiating continued UK access to long-term European funding and collaboration programmes for science; and agreement to facilitate the ease of movement for highly-skilled talent.

Today's rankings prove that the UK and European model for collaboration works. The greatest minds of our generation work with companies and researchers around the world. To ensure we stay at the top of those rankings – and patients continue to reap the rewards, we must solve the issue of innovation and access to talent in a post-Brexit world.

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