Beyond the Rankings: Top UK Universities Revealed

Thursday 7th September 2023

  • Our recent study highlights the prominent universities and regions that have produced significant business leaders from 2003-2022.
  • University of the Arts London (UAL) emerges as a leading institution for producing business founders with a notable 8.44% rate.
  • Traditional heavyweights, the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford, consistently rank within the top 10 for producing both Founders and CEOs/MDs.
  • While London leads in the cultivation of business founders, for CEO and MD roles, regions such as Scotland, the North West, and Yorkshire display strong results.

We've conducted a thorough analysis of 121 universities, studying an extensive 9.7 million alumni profiles on LinkedIn to trace the educational backgrounds of current entrepreneurs and business leaders across the UK.

Recent studies provide insightful clarity into the relationship between university rankings and the real-world accomplishments of their graduates. This analysis reveals which UK universities have been instrumental in shaping top-tier Founders and CEOs, uncovering several intriguing patterns…

Founders

The University of the Arts London (UAL) stands out, with an impressive 8.44% of its graduates pursuing entrepreneurial ventures. This is notable given its 19th position in the Guardian ranking. Renowned institutions, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, continue to be consistent performers in this domain.

London, known for its vibrant entrepreneurial scene, remains a hub for innovation. Impressively, 14 of the top 25 universities producing business founders are based in London.

Index Rank:University:University Region:2023 Guardian University Ranking:% that went on to be founders:
1University of the Arts London (UAL)London198.44
2London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)London48.35
3Goldsmiths, University of LondonLondon1067.29
4SOAS University of LondonLondon867.19
5University of CambridgeSE37.1
6Heriot-Watt University, EdinburghScotland456.89
7University of OxfordMidlands26.37
8Imperial College, LondonLondon56.32
9University College London (UCL)London96.03
10Falmouth University (Cornwall)SW975.81
11University of WestminsterLondon1165.41
12Kings College LondonLondon295.27
13London Metropolitan UniversityLondon1045.12
14City, University of LondonLondon585.03
15Middlesex University (London)London1114.99
16Arts University BournemouthSW704.72
17University of St AndrewsScotland14.68
18The University of EdinburghScotland124.68
18University for the Creative Arts (UCA)SE494.68
20Royal Holloway, University of LondonLondon334.29
21University of WarwickMidlands84.27
22University of SussexSE664.26
23University of BathSW74.11
24Kingston University LondonLondon554.08
25St Mary's University, Twickenham, LondonLondon704.07
26Brunel University (London)London1164.07
27Queen Mary University of LondonLondon544.02
28University of East LondonLondon1133.99
29University of BrightonSE923.95
30University of NottinghamMidlands633.92
31Oxford Brookes UniversitySE423.89
32University of BristolSW163.88
33University of Roehampton (London)London1113.87
34Loughborough UniversityMidlands103.81
35University Of CumbriaNW1153.75
36University of LeedsYorkshire203.69
37The University of ManchesterNW303.67
37University Of SurreySE243.67
39Queen Margaret University, EdinburghScotland893.54
40Durham UniversityNE63.53
41University of West LondonLondon233.49
42Lancaster UniversityNW143.48
43University of ExeterSW153.41
44University of EssexSE423.4
44Buckinghamshire New UniversitySE703.4
44University of KentSE553.4
47Bournemouth UniversitySW1083.39
48Bath Spa UniversitySW893.34
49London South Bank UniversityLondon963.27
50Abertay University (Dundee)Scotland853.26
51Cardiff Metropolitan UniversityWales733.25
51University of GloucestershireSW883.25
53University of BradfordYorkshire803.22
53UWE BristolSW243.22
55Solent University (Southampton)SE1013.19
55University of GreenwichLondon983.19
57University of ReadingSE613.17
57University of BirminghamMidlands273.17
59University of LeicesterMidlands353.15
60Newcastle UniversityNE633.14
61Staffordshire UniversityMidlands683.1
62University of ChichesterSE373.09
62University of LiverpoolNW403.09
64York St John UniversityYorkshire773.07
64Wrexham Glyndwr UniversityWales943.07
66Aston UniversityMidlands223.05
67University of YorkYorkshire213.04
68University of HertfordshireLondon743.01
69Edinburgh Napier UniversityScotland832.99
69University of SouthamptonSE162.99
71Leeds Beckett UniversityYorkshire1022.98
72The University of SheffieldYorkshire302.97
73Nottingham Trent UniversityMidlands622.93
74University of BedfordshireSE1212.91
75University of East Anglia (UEA)SE272.88
76University of SalfordNW892.85
77Bangor UniversityWales822.84
77Cardiff UniversityWales352.84
79Northumbria UniversityNE462.83
80Coventry UniversityMidlands512.82
81University of South WalesWales532.81
82University of Wales Trinity Saint DavidWales742.79
83The Manchester Metropolitan UniversityNW842.76
84University of AberdeenScotland132.75
85University of DerbyMidlands482.73
86University of NorthamptonMidlands952.72
86De Montfort University (Leicester)Midlands1202.72
86University of DundeeScotland442.72
89University of StrathclydeScotland162.71
90University of HullYorkshire592.7
91Canterbury Christ Church UniversitySE1162.67
91University of GlasgowScotland112.67
93University of ChesterNW742.66
94Anglia Ruskin University (ARU Cambridge)SE1092.65
94University of StirlingScotland592.65
96University of WinchesterSE1102.64
97Birmingham City UniversityMidlands1002.63
98University of BoltonNW382.62
99University of PlymouthSW632.59
99University of SunderlandNE502.59
101University of PortsmouthSE672.55
102University of HuddersfieldYorkshire782.53
103Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen)Scotland932.43
104University of SuffolkSE692.42
104Leeds Trinity UniversityYorkshire1132.42
104University of Central LancashireNW1042.42
107University of WolverhamptonMidlands1062.41
108University of WorcesterMidlands1022.4
109University of LincolnMidlands342.39
109Keele UniversityMidlands322.39
111Liverpool Hope UniversityNW992.37
112Aberystwyth UniversityWales402.31
113Swansea UniversityWales262.16
114Liverpool John Moores UniversityNW872.15
114University of the West Scotland (UWS)Scotland1192.15
116Glasgow Caledonian UniversityScotland522.14
117Queen's University BelfastIreland462.1
118Teesside UniversityNE802.09
119Sheffield Hallam UniversityYorkshire782.07
120Ulster UniversityIreland381.87
121Edge Hill UniversityNW551.71

While the likes of Cambridge and Oxford remain strongholds for entrepreneurial education, the limelight is shared by unexpected stars like the University of Cumbria and Goldsmiths.

CEO's & MD's

In the realm of corporate leadership, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has set a benchmark. A commendable 15.76% of its students have transitioned into CEO or MD roles. Equally intriguing is the University Of Cumbria, positioned at 115th in the Guardian rankings, which has secured a reputable second position.

London's representation diminishes slightly within the top echelons of CEOs and MDs, with 9 of the top 25 universities located in the capital. However, the South East emerges as a key player in this arena.

Index Rank:University:University Region:2023 Guardian University Ranking:% that went on to be CEO’s or MD’s:
1Heriot-Watt University, EdinburghScotland4515.76
2University Of CumbriaNW1158.22
3London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)London47.67
4University of CambridgeSE36.74
5SOAS University of LondonLondon866.14
6University of OxfordMidlands25.93
7Wrexham Glyndwr UniversityWales945.62
8University of BoltonNW385.58
9York St John UniversityYorkshire775.54
10Middlesex University (London)London1115.53
11University of DundeeScotland445.5
12London Metropolitan UniversityLondon1045.44
13St Mary's University, Twickenham, LondonLondon705.34
14Buckinghamshire New UniversitySE705.26
15University of BradfordYorkshire805.2
16University of SuffolkSE695.12
17University of ChichesterSE374.93
18Queen Margaret University, EdinburghScotland894.83
19Leeds Trinity UniversityYorkshire1134.77
20University of East LondonLondon1134.76
21City, University of LondonLondon584.73
22Imperial College, LondonLondon54.68
23Oxford Brookes UniversitySE424.67
24University of GloucestershireSW884.65
25London South Bank UniversityLondon964.63
26University of LeicesterMidlands354.61
27Abertay University (Dundee)Scotland854.55
28University of WestminsterLondon1164.52
29University of West LondonLondon234.44
30University of Roehampton (London)London1114.42
31University of BedfordshireSE1214.38
32Liverpool Hope UniversityNW994.33
33University of DerbyMidlands484.32
34University of LiverpoolNW404.31
35Royal Holloway, University of LondonLondon334.28
36University of Wales Trinity Saint DavidWales744.27
37University of SunderlandNE504.26
38Cardiff Metropolitan UniversityWales734.25
39Anglia Ruskin University (ARU Cambridge)SE1094.24
40University of SalfordNW894.23
41Goldsmiths, University of LondonLondon1064.22
41Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen)Scotland934.22
43University of NorthamptonMidlands954.17
43University of St AndrewsScotland14.17
45University of WinchesterSE1104.16
46Kings College LondonLondon294.13
47Falmouth University (Cornwall)SW974.12
48Arts University BournemouthSW704.07
49University of South WalesWales534.04
49University of StirlingScotland594.04
51University Of SurreySE244.03
51Kingston University LondonLondon554.03
53University of HullYorkshire594.02
54Bangor UniversityWales823.99
55Brunel University (London)London1163.96
56University of ReadingSE613.95
57University of WorcesterMidlands1023.94
57Keele UniversityMidlands323.94
59University of WolverhamptonMidlands1063.91
60Staffordshire UniversityMidlands683.89
61University of GreenwichLondon983.86
62University of BathSW73.84
63Lancaster UniversityNW143.83
64University of ChesterNW743.8
64Aston UniversityMidlands223.8
66Solent University (Southampton)SE1013.74
67University of WarwickMidlands83.71
67University of StrathclydeScotland163.71
69Aberystwyth UniversityWales403.67
70Canterbury Christ Church UniversitySE1163.64
71Edinburgh Napier UniversityScotland833.61
71University College London (UCL)London93.61
73Durham UniversityNE63.6
73Bournemouth UniversitySW1083.6
75Leeds Beckett UniversityYorkshire1023.59
76University of the Arts London (UAL)London193.56
77The University of ManchesterNW303.55
78University of EssexSE423.54
79University of BrightonSE923.51
80Loughborough UniversityMidlands103.5
81University of HuddersfieldYorkshire783.48
82Bath Spa UniversitySW893.47
83Teesside UniversityNE803.4
84University of HertfordshireLondon743.36
85University of SussexSE663.34
86University of AberdeenScotland133.29
87The University of EdinburghScotland123.28
88University for the Creative Arts (UCA)SE493.26
89University of BirminghamMidlands273.23
89Coventry UniversityMidlands513.23
89Northumbria UniversityNE463.23
92University of PortsmouthSE673.22
93University of the West Scotland (UWS)Scotland1193.21
94University of Central LancashireNW1043.2
94University of LeedsYorkshire203.2
94De Montfort University (Leicester)Midlands1203.2
97University of LincolnMidlands343.19
98Nottingham Trent UniversityMidlands623.15
99University of NottinghamMidlands633.14
100UWE BristolSW243.13
101University of KentSE553.12
102Birmingham City UniversityMidlands1003.11
103Glasgow Caledonian UniversityScotland523.1
104Cardiff UniversityWales353.08
104University of PlymouthSW633.08
106University of East Anglia (UEA)SE272.99
107Queen Mary University of LondonLondon542.94
108The University of SheffieldYorkshire302.93
109Liverpool John Moores UniversityNW872.91
110University of BristolSW162.9
110University of YorkYorkshire212.9
112The Manchester Metropolitan UniversityNW842.87
113University of ExeterSW152.86
113Edge Hill UniversityNW552.86
115Newcastle UniversityNE632.83
116University of SouthamptonSE162.8
117Sheffield Hallam UniversityYorkshire782.77
118Swansea UniversityWales262.68
119Ulster UniversityIreland382.62
120Queen's University BelfastIreland462.34
121University of GlasgowScotland112.18

Regional Highlights

Founders

The southern regions of the UK have solidified their reputation as centres for entrepreneurship. London, celebrated for its international appeal and dynamic business environment, leads with 5.04%.

It's closely followed by the South West and South East regions, registering 3.77% and 3.45% respectively, affirming the South's role in cultivating enterprising individuals.

Index Rank:University Region:Average % that went on to be founders:
1London5.04
2SW3.77
3SE3.45
4Scotland3.30
5Midlands3.16

CEO's & MD's

When it comes to leadership within established organisations, the northern regions take centre stage. Scotland, renowned for its academic excellence and a rich tradition of innovation, ranks first at 4.68%.

The North West, experiencing notable growth across various sectors, follows closely at 4.14%. Yorkshire's inclusion in the top five further emphasises the northern regions' influence in moulding business leaders.

Index Rank:University Region:Average % that went on to be CEO’s or MD’s:
1Scotland4.68
2London4.56
3NW4.14
4SE4.03
5Yorkshire3.84

Although London and the South East have a presence in both categories, their dominance is more evident in the Founders category.

The data paints a compelling story, illustrating the UK as a nation with diverse opportunities. While the southern regions appear more inclined towards entrepreneurship, the northern areas are emerging as breeding grounds for corporate leadership. This dichotomy highlights the balanced, dynamic nature of the UK's academic and commercial landscape.

John Atkinson, Head of Commercial Business at Novuna Business Cash Flow, commented, "Our research underlines that success in the business sector isn't exclusively from premier universities as traditionally perceived. Several universities, often not highlighted in typical rankings, are proving pivotal in shaping future founders and business frontrunners. We believe our findings will provide a new viewpoint for the next generation of ambitious professionals."

About the Research

Field: 29th - 30th August 2023

Sample: 121 UK universities, Alumni between 2003-2022.

Methodology

To ascertain the number of entrepreneurial alumni, analysis was conducted of the 'Alumni' segment on the official LinkedIn page for each university. Our criteria filtered for alumni who held the job title "Founder", “CEO”, “Managing Director” during the period from 2003 to 2022. The results of this analysis yielded the figures presented in the “% that went on to be founders:”, “% that went on to be CEO’s or MD’s:” and “Average % that went on to be CEO’s or MD’s: columns.

The 'Guardian 2023 Rank' was sourced directly from the Guardian University Guide, available here.

Full research can be found here.

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