UK university subject rankings: institutions which excel in degree courses students may not expect

Here’s a list of universities which excel at degree courses you may not expect.
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When it comes to specific areas of expertise, some universities are known for their subjects. The University of Oxford, for instance, is famous for its course in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) - and Imperial College London is well-known for its prowess in maths and sciences degrees.

The London School of Economics is, as the name suggests, leading in economics courses - while some of the ‘top’ universities, such as the University of Cambridge, are seen to excel in a range of subjects, from english and history to engineering and law.

However, there are some universities which may not come at the top of overall ranking guides - but which excel at a particular subject or two. Likewise, there are some institutions which are most known for their arts courses, but which have a world-leading professor in a specific social science course, for example.

These so-called ‘hidden gem’ courses are worth being aware of when picking where you want to study - as you may be better off studying somewhere which excels in your chosen subject rather than at an institution which is simply nearer the top of a general league table.

To help you out, NationalWorld has had a thorough look through various university guides and rankings tables, and found some universities which specialise in subjects you may not expect.

Here’s a list of universities which excel at degree courses you may not expect. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorldHere’s a list of universities which excel at degree courses you may not expect. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld
Here’s a list of universities which excel at degree courses you may not expect. Credit: Mark Hall / NationalWorld

Medicine: Queen’s University Belfast

Queen’s University Belfast comes in 27th in the Complete University Guide’s overall ranking for 2024, but shoots up to 7th in the medicine-specific ranks - with high scores in research quality and student satisfaction. The university’s course is both practical and comprehensive, and offers students in their fifth year the opportunity to work at a hospital abroad in countries such as Australia, India, Canada, and more.

Law: University of Leeds

Leeds ranks in 11th across the entire UK for its law degree, according to the Complete University Guide. Its course is said to enable students to “learn about the law, both in the sense of ‘thinking like a lawyer’ and studying law as a social institution” - and promises to teach expertise in “analysis, research, logical argument and more”.

Engineering: University of Southampton

Various engineering degrees at the University of Southampton ranked within the global top 100 and the UK’s top ten in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023. Its mechanical engineering course and its technological engineering course ranked 6th and 7th respectively in the UK, while its civil engineering degree was in the 50 - 100 place band in world rankings.

The University of Southampton has excelled in engineering courses in recent rankings. Credit: The University of Southampton / www.southampton.ac.ukThe University of Southampton has excelled in engineering courses in recent rankings. Credit: The University of Southampton / www.southampton.ac.uk
The University of Southampton has excelled in engineering courses in recent rankings. Credit: The University of Southampton / www.southampton.ac.uk

English: University of Strathclyde

When you think of english degrees, you may think of some of the more typically traditional institutions, like the University of Durham or University of Bristol. But the University of Strathclyde came a presitigous 3rd place in the 2023 Times’ and Sunday Times rankings - praised for its “innovative” programme which merges “classics with the exploration of new, experimental fields of literature”.

Maths: University of Manchester

In the ever-competitive mathematics rankings, the University of Manchester snuck into the upper ranks at 13th in the Complete University Guide. This is largely thanks to its high scores in graduate prospects and quality of research.

Nursing: University of Sheffield

The University of Sheffield takes the top spot for nursing degrees across the UK according to the Complete University Guide, and is also ranked in the top 100 in the world for clinical and health subjects in the QS World University Rankings.

French: University of Nottingham

According to Study In The UK, the University of Nottingham is historically famous for its economics, psychology, and history degrees - but recent rankings suggest the institution has a knack for modern languages too. It came 10th in the Complete University Guide’s French ranking - with particularly high scores in graduate prospects.

Spanish: University of Surrey

Elsewhere in modern languages, the University of Surrey has excelled in Spanish - coming in a respectable 7th place after scoring well in student satisfaction and quality of research. And it received good ratings for its Portuguese courses too!

The University of Dundee came out on top for its dentistry degree. Credit: The University of DundeeThe University of Dundee came out on top for its dentistry degree. Credit: The University of Dundee
The University of Dundee came out on top for its dentistry degree. Credit: The University of Dundee

Dentistry: University of Dundee

Dundee is a great example of an institution that specialises in subjects. Although it only came 58th in the Complete University Guide’s overall ranking, it came out on top for dentistry - and consistently features in the top ten in a variety of other subject guides.

Art and Design: Kingston

And finally, Kingston is yet another university which doesn’t rank too well in overall institution guides, but which excels and specialises in a range of art and design-related degrees. In The Guardian’s 2023 university rankings, Kingston came in first place in the UK for both interior design and product design, as well as first place in London for graphic design. Meanwhile, in the Complete University Guide, it came sixth place across the country for art and design courses.

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