The CUG League Tables 2021: Top UK Universities

This extensive analysis of the Complete University Guide League Tables 2021 allows you to compare UK universities, subjects and more.

The Complete University Guide (CUG) has released its University League Tables 2021. These rankings rate UK universities, focusing on 70 different subjects and can help you compare universities in the UK and university subjects. This allows you to decide which institution may best suit your preferences. We’ve delved deep into the results of the university league tables, looking at the top universities overall, subject specific rankings and student satisfaction for a comprehensive summary.  

Top 10 UK universities

To kick off we take a look at the top ten universities in the UK, but remember, this rating is for their overall scores and some institutions will come out on top for specific subjects, which aren’t featured in this list. So, make sure you don’t rule out universities just because they don’t appear in the top 10. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right university for you.

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of St Andrews
  4. London School of Economics and Political Science
  5. Imperial College London
  6. Loughborough University
  7. Durham University
  8. Lancaster University
  9. University of Bath
  10. UCL (University College London)

Why not take a look at the full CUG University League Tables 2021?

As you can see from the above results, there have been only slight changes in ranking positions compared to the 2020 rankings. Loughborough University has climbed two places from 8th to 6th place, while Durham University and Lancaster University have both fallen by one place from the 2020 rankings.

To formulate this list and the table itself, a set of specific criteria was used to assess these universities. These include elements like research quality, graduate prospects, degree completion, student satisfaction, entry standards, investment and student to staff ratios.

Up and coming universities

The top ten list features some of the most prestigious universities in the UK and globally, which many international students aspire to attend. Attending a top institution is the dream for many students, but it’s also important to assess other options when researching your prospective institutions. Entry criteria and competition for places is particularly high at prestigious universities. That’s why we’ve also taken a look at those universities climbing the ranks and improving their overall score since the 2020 tables. Some of the rising star universities are:

  • University of Chichester (72nd) + 16 places
  • Arts University of Bournemouth (48th) +17 places
  • University of Hull (64th) +17
  • Aberystwyth University (58th) +13
  • Robert Gordon University (72nd) +13
  • University of West London (77th) +13
  • University of Huddersfield (53rd) +11
  • Bangor University (72nd) +11
  • University of York (22nd) +8
  • SOAS University of London (39th) +7

Researching the development and improvements of institutions is another way of using the league tables to find your ideal match. What you’ll notice is that there are many high-quality universities which rank below the top ten, yet are well worth your consideration and investigation.

Popular courses in the UK

Another feature of the CUG League Tables is the subject rankings, enabling you to research the subjects you’re most interested in to see how well the university performs for that course. Each university will have its own specializations so make sure you check which institutions come out on top for the course you want to study.

We’ve concentrated on the most noticeable differences in overall score, student satisfaction, graduate prospects and research quality in comparison to the CUG League Tables 2020 rankings, but you can refer to the full table to consider the remaining six categories.


As a popular university degree, the top five UK universities for nursing are listed below. As you can see, Cardiff University has jumped nine places since the 2020 rankings, now taking third position.

  1. University of Glasgow
  2. University of Edinburgh
  3. Cardiff University +9
  4. University of Manchester -1
  5. University of Surrey -1

Student satisfaction

While these institutions rank highly overall, if you look specifically at student satisfaction, the table looks quite different. So, when choosing this category, Queen Margaret University jumps to first place with a student satisfaction score of 94 per cent, despite its overall position at 21st. So, although this institution sits below the top ten, students are most satisfied with the quality of teaching they receive here compared to all other universities. (This data is compiled from the National Student Survey of final-year undergraduate students in 2019).

Graduate prospects

Similarly, Keele University ranks 22nd overall but sits in 1st place for graduate prospects with a score of 100 per cent. This category represents the success of students upon completion of their course in terms of employment or further study. This might be something you choose to keep in mind if you’re thinking ahead to employability once you graduate.


Medicine is another desirable degree course for international students for several reasons such as promising salary, high job satisfaction and graduate employment prospects. In addition, the UK is also a highly sought-after study destination and so a medicine degree from a UK university holds global recognition. So which universities are topping the league tables for this course?

Overall score

  1. University of Dundee +5
  2. University of Glasgow +2
  3. University of Oxford -2
  4. University of Aberdeen +7
  5. University of Edinburgh

This table for medicine reveals some interesting changes from the CUG University League Tables 2020. You can see that the University of Aberdeen has jumped seven places and the University of Dundee has jumped five places, now sitting in 1st position, representing significant progress of Scottish universities in the rankings.

Student satisfaction

  1. Brighton and Sussex
  2. University of St Andrews
  3. University of Oxford
  4. Keele University
  5. University of Plymouth

What’s clear is that the top universities for student satisfaction for medicine courses are quite different to the overall institutional scores. Brighton and Sussex Medical School, for example, is actually 19th overall but the students are most satisfied with the teaching, in joint 1st place with the University of St Andrews. Similarly, Keele University and the University of Plymouth both score highly for student satisfaction in comparison to their overall position.


One of the most searched for courses in the UK, physiotherapy is a degree which can be directly applied to the professional field. The institutions with the highest overall ratings for the subject are:

Overall score

1. University of Southampton

2. Robert Gordon University

3. Cardiff University +1

4. Glasgow Caledonian University +7

5. University of Birmingham +1

What’s notable is that Glasgow Caledonian University has climbed from 11th to 4th place for physiotherapy since the last rankings. The University of Birmingham has also climbed from 6th to 5th position. The University of Southampton and Robert Gordon University have both remained in the same top first and second positions consecutively.

Research quality

This category refers to the quality of research undertaken at the university, further reflecting the expertise of teaching professionals. The results for research quality at UK universities for physiotherapy are as follows:

1. University of Southampton

2. University of Birmingham

3. Cardiff University

4. Kings College London

5. Keele University

If you compare the top five for overall score you can see the different placement of universities. So, while Southampton remains in 1st place, the University of Birmingham has jumped from 5th to 2nd place, in addition to the appearance of Kings College London which overall sits in 32nd place.

So, the research efforts of a university can be another way of assessing and comparing institutions using these league tables and may help you decide between a few universities when creating a shortlist of your favourites.

Veterinary sciences

If you are an animal and science lover, veterinary sciences could be the right path for you. An in-demand degree, veterinary sciences graduates typically start their careers on GBP 28,000 moving into higher salary brackets of GBP 40,000- 70,000 with experience. However, the course is highly competitive and entry requirements tend to be high. We took a look at the top five UK universities for veterinary sciences:

1. University of Glasgow

2. Royal Veterinary College, University of London

3. University of Bristol

4. University of Edinburgh

5. University of Liverpool +2

In comparison, since the league tables of 2020, there has been little movement in where these universities place. Within this top five, only the University of Liverpool has moved from 7th to 5th place.

Student satisfaction

So, what do students feel about their experience of studying veterinary sciences in the UK? These are the leading universities for student satisfaction:

1. University of Nottingham

2. University of Surrey

3. University of Edinburgh

4. University of Bristol

5. University of Liverpool

One noticeable change when adjusting the table according to student satisfaction is that the University of Surrey has jumped from 8th to 2nd place, reflecting positive and growing student perceptions of this course.

The CUG University League Tables 2021 should help you when choosing a course and university in the UK. Don’t forget that league tables are not the final authority on whether a university is worth attending, but a useful way of evaluating potential options in combination with other factors.

You can take a look at our analysis of the Times Higher Education World University RankingsThe Guardian League Table and QS World University Rankings. Still can’t decide on a course and university in the UK? Let us do the work for you!