Top-Ranked UK Universities for International Students

Photos of international students and famous UK academic landmarks, representing top-ranked UK universities for study abroad.

With 11 universities in the 2024 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings‘ top 100, the United Kingdom (UK) is an education powerhouse. Many UK universities offer international students both an excellent student experience and access to field-leading instructors. Below, we’ll look at some UK universities recognized by two prestigious lists: Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2024 and The Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2024. If you’re a future international student, these top-ranked UK universities are great options.

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Flag of the United Kingdom.

The Russell Group

When thinking of top-ranked UK universities, the 24 Russell Group universities likely come to mind. These research-intensive institutions have a long history of academic excellence, and are strong contributors to the UK’s economy. In fact, they provide over two-thirds of the UK’s higher-education-based research.

Learners are welcomed to Russell Group universities from around the world: almost one-third of their students are of a non-UK nationality. Plus, each Russell Group is ranked in the top 60% in the Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2024 list.

The Russell Group institutions are:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

Learn more about many of these institutions in our previous Top Universities in the UK article.

Below we’re going to take a closer look at six of these Russell Group universities. These top-ranked UK universities sit among the world’s top 130 institutions, per the 2024 THE World University Rankings. Here are some of their rankings, interesting courses, and distinctive features—could one of them suit your academic goals?

Help your UK student visa application rise to the top of the pile with these strategies.

The University of Birmingham campus: multiple red-brick multistorey buildings arranged around a tall, red-brick clocktower. A more modern blue glass building is in the distance.

Image Credit: mattbuck (category), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

University of Birmingham


The University of Birmingham is ranked #101 in the world by THE. Birmingham’s research quality score is a near-perfect 95.5 out of 100 on THE’s list, and its current research focuses include nanotechnology, dentistry, robotics, and virtual reality. The University of Birmingham was ranked #37 across the UK on the Guardian’s 2024 Best UK Universities list.

Course Spotlight

From the development of allergy vaccines to the creation of pacemakers, innovation thrives at Birmingham. Birmingham is home to one of Europe’s largest medical schools, so could be a great match for international students interested in medicine or dentistry. The Guardian ranked its dentistry programmes #8 in the UK, biomedical courses at #14, and medical courses at #26.

Distinctive Features

Birmingham has been a welcoming institution since its founding: as the first civic ‘redbrick university‘ in the UK, it admitted students equally from all backgrounds and religions. Today, Birmingham’s campus is one of the most diverse campuses in the country, with over 5,000 international students currently enrolled.

31% of its teaching staff are international, so instructors are more likely to understand the challenges international students might experience, from making new friends to culture shock. And, as international students have a guaranteed opportunity to book university housing if they’re in a full-year course, that makes settling in a little easier.

How can you make the most of your time as a student in the UK? We spoke with representatives from institutions across the UK to find out.

The Old College at the University of Edinburgh: a U-shaped grey stone two-storey academic building surrounds a large green lawn. The building's middle features a tower with a silver dome.

Image Credit: LWYang from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

University of Edinburgh


The University of Edinburgh was ranked #14 by the Guardian’s list, and #30 in 2024’s THE global rankings. It is one of Britain and Ireland’s seven ‘ancient universities’ and the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

THE ranks Edinburgh’s arts and humanities courses #12 in the world. (U.S. News and World Report is even more enthusiastic, placing them at #6.) In the sciences, clinical/pre-clinical courses are #23 globally per THE, with life sciences close behind at #28. Edinburgh’s social sciences and physical science courses are also in the world’s top 50.

Course Spotlight

Edinburgh’s courses excel across disciplines. Whether your interest lies in space science (#26 globally, per U.S. News and World Report), public health (#13), education (#39), neuroscience (#36), physics (#38), or surgery (#18), many courses are ranked among the world’s best.

Distinctive Features

Per the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, Edinburgh is Scotland’s top-ranked institution for its research quality and scope, and fourth in the UK. Students can access one of the world’s largest academic libraries on campus, open-access computer labs, and free laptop loans.

Students who are from outside the city of Edinburgh are guaranteed a place in university-managed housing, as long as they apply by the Accommodation Guarantee deadline. Graduate student accommodations are also available, as the university recognizes undergraduate and graduate students might want different housing options.


The University of Glasgow with Dumgoyne in the background (two-storey academic building with a tall central tower, fronted by deciduous trees in autumn foliage (greens, yellows, oranges) and a mid-sized city stretching out behind.

Image Credit: Ian Dick, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

University of Glasgow


The University of Glasgow has prepared students to tackle industry challenges for nearly 600 years. It remains at the top of its class—it was named the Scottish University of the Year by the Times & Sunday Times in 2023 and 2024, and 13th by THE’s 2023 Impact Rankings. On THE’s 2024 World University Rankings, it’s tied with Purdue University in the United States at #86.

Course Spotlight

The University of Glasgow’s medical programmes are highly regarded. U.S. News & World Report puts its cardiac and cardiovascular systems courses at #6 globally, and clinical medicine at #50. Public health, oncology, and infectious diseases courses also made the world’s top 100.

STEM fields generally perform well: physics ranks at #55, microbiology is at #60, and psychology comes in at #105. Arts and humanities courses rank highly too, within the world’s top 80 per U.S. News.

Ready to go? Prepare for your degree with a pathway program, designed for international students, at the Glasgow International College at the University of Glasgow. From pre-master’s medical programmes to science and engineering foundation certificates, there’s an option to fit your goals.

What’s a pathway program, and how can it help you?

Distinctive Features

Students from over 140 countries study at the University of Glasgow, and the university offers comprehensive support to ensure their success. This ranges from an online Student Journey Planner to an International Family Network, which organizes welcome events and trips to interesting places across Scotland for students and their families.

Student life is vibrant, with 300+ student clubs and athletic opportunities. Glasgow means “dear green place” in Gaelic, and the city lives up to its name, with over 90 parks and gardens students can explore. It also offers a lively music and festival scene, with diverse dining options. All of that led to Glasgow being ranked the world’s friendliest city by Time Out in 2022!

After finishing their course, Glasgow grads are in demand: 95.9% find employment or are in further studies within six months after graduation.


The University of Nottingham campus, as seen from Highfields Park

Image Credit: Peter Shone / Nottingham University from Highfields Park

University of Nottingham


Founded in 1881, the University of Nottingham has grown to welcome 47,000 students from over 150 countries. Today, 27% of the student body are international. It has a competitive student-to-staff ratio of 16:1, which means more personal connection with instructors, and smaller classes with livelier discussions. Nottingham is tied at #130 on THE’s global rankings, and is at #59 on the Guardian’s list.

The University of Nottingham also excels at athletics: it was ranked the #1 Sports University of the Year by The Times and the Sunday Times’ Good University Guide in 2024.

Course Spotlight

From engineering to economics, the University of Nottingham offers courses ranked among the world’s top 100. This translates into graduate success: Nottingham grads are the third most targeted by top-tier UK employers, per a 2024 High Fliers report. Mechanical engineering scores especially well, with U.S. News & World Report ranking it #47 in the world.

Plus, dedication to encouraging the brightest students—regardless of gender—is built into the institution itself. Nottingham’s engineering department was the first in the UK to earn an Athena Swan Gold Award, which recognizes “commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine employment.”

Distinctive Features

90% of Nottingham’s research is classed as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent,’ so students in research-forward courses have a real opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

Between classes, students can explore this student-friendly city! From enjoying a performance at Lakeside Arts on campus to watching a match at the Trent Bridge cricket ground, students can thrive in a safe and welcoming campus and community.

Not sure where you’d like to study yet? There are lots of good options! Check out our Top-Ranked Universities posts for Canada, the United States, and Australia for more ideas.


A Victorian brick building (now the Faculty of Music) and a postmodern steel and glass building with diamond-shaped windows on the University of Sheffield campus.

Image Credit: Mick Knapton, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

University of Sheffield


The University of Sheffield ranked at #105 on THE’s 2024 global list and climbed nine spots to land at #21 on the Guardian’s Best UK Universities list for 2024. It scored particularly well on the Guardian’s metric for student satisfaction with teaching and its student-to-staff ratio of 14:1.

Course Spotlight

Many of the University of Sheffield’s STEM programmes are highly regarded. U.S. News & World Report puts its endocrinology and metabolism courses at #28 globally, and public health at #69. Ecology, physics, and civil engineering courses also made the world’s top 100.

Arts and humanities courses rank highly too, within the world’s top 60 per U.S. News.

Distinctive Features

Students recommend the University of Sheffield for its overall student experience, its Student Union, and clubs. Sheffield’s Students Union has been ranked the best in the UK from 2017 to 2024, making it a good choice for international students who want to be actively involved in campus life (or are future project managers)!

The city of Sheffield also ranks highly as a student city, making multiple best-student-city lists. Most recently, it took third place on StudentCrowd’s 2023 ranking of UK student cities.


University of Southampton


The University of Southampton is tied at #97 in the world by THE. Birmingham has an excellent research quality score of 92.7 out of 100 on THE’s list, and a competitive student-to-staff ratio of 13 to 1. The University of Southampton was also ranked #20 across the UK on the Guardian’s 2024 Best UK Universities list.

Course Spotlight

Engineering and technology courses, as well as physical sciences and social science courses at Southampton all rank in the world’s top 100, per THE’s 2024 rankings. Southampton scholars have investigated how hearing loss contributes to brain health, innovative ADHD treatment, modern applications for artificial intelligence, and more. According to 2021 Research Excellence Framework findings, Southampton ranks fourth in the Russell Group (and in the top 10% of UK universities) for “impact demonstrating the real-world benefit of [their] research.”

Distinctive Features

Southampton leans into excellence in science. Its Zepler Institute is a multidisciplinary research school within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, focusing on optics, electronics, and quantum technology. It’s home to over 30% of UK government-level photonics research, and its innovations include everything from fibre lasers to optical amplifiers.

More interested in becoming an entrepreneur? Southampton is a founding partner of SETsquared, the world’s top university business incubator as ranked by UBI Global.

A stylized illustration of the United Kingdom, featuring Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Union Jack.

Colleges and universities in the UK have a lot to offer international students. We hope this list of top-ranked UK universities has helped you define which ones match your academic goals!

ApplyBoard can help you find the best course options, organize your application, and get you ready to land. Try it today.


The most important stories in international education, backed by data