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Top Universities in Europe

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It may be the second-smallest continent on Earth, but Europe boasts many of the world’s best educational institutions. In the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15 a total of 336 European universities are featured within the world’s top 800 (roughly 42%). The UK boasts Europe’s highest number of internationally ranked universities with 70 entries, but is closely followed by Germany (42) and France (41). Meanwhile Switzerland has two universities ranked among the world’s top 20, leading a group of smaller European countries with very strong higher education systems.

With such a large selection of top universities in Europe to pick from, choosing where to study in Europe is not always easy. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the top universities in Europe divided by country, based on the QS World University Rankings 2014/15.

Top universities in Austria

A landlocked country in central Europe, Austria shares borders with eight other European countries, including Germany to the north and Italy to the south. It has seven top European universities currently included in the QS World University Rankings; of these, the top universities in Austria are:

1.      University of Vienna (156th in the world; 69= in Europe)

2.      Vienna University of Technology (246th in the world; 115= in Europe)

3.      Universität Innsbruck (288th in the world; 134th in Europe)

4.      Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz (411-420 in the world; 189= in Europe)

5.      Johannes Kepler University Linz (551-600 in the world; 243= in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Austria

Top universities in Belgium

Known for its fine chocolate and fine beer, Belgium is also home to some fine educational establishments. Like Austria, it boasts seven of the top universities in Europe to be internationally ranked, all of these placed within the top 300 worldwide. The top universities in Belgium are:

1.      KU Leuven (82nd in the world; 31st in Europe)

2.      Ghent University (129th in the world; 56th in Europe)

3.      Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL, 154th in the world; 67th in Europe)

4.      Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, 173rd in the world; 76= in Europe)

5.      Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, 181st in the world; 83rd in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Belgium

Top universities in France

France boasts a very extensive selection of top European universities, and an impressive presence in the international rankings, with the majority of its top 10 universities located in the capital city of Paris. The top universities in France are:

1.      Ecolé Normale Supérieure, Paris (24th in the world; 9th in Europe)

2.      Ecolé Polytechnique (35th in the world; 12th in Europe)

3.      Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC, 115th in the world; 46th in Europe)

4.      Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (179th in the world; 81= in Europe)

5.      Université Paris-Sud 11 (209th in the world; 95th in Europe)

+ 36 more top universities in France

Top universities in Germany

Although only one of the top universities in Germany makes it into the top 50 worldwide, there are 42 universities in Germany featured in the world rankings overall. Offering free tuition to all undergraduate students as of September 2014, Germany is also the world’s most popular non-Anglophone destination for international students. The top universities in Germany are:

1.      Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (49th in the world; 14th in Europe)

2.      Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd in the world; 16th in Europe)

3.      Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th in the world; 17th in Europe)

4.      Universität Freiburg (121st in the world; 50th in Europe)

5.      Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT, 127th in the world; 54= in Europe)

+ 37 more top universities in Germany

Top universities in Ireland

A relatively small country in Western Europe, Ireland is home to eight world-ranking universities, of which half are located in the capital city, Dublin. The top universities in Ireland are:

1.      Trinity College Dublin (71st in the world; 25= in Europe)

2.      University College Dublin (139th in the world; 59th in Europe)

3.      University College Cork (230th in the world; 107= in Europe)

4.      National University of Ireland, Galway (280th in the world; 131st in Europe)

5.      Dublin City University (366th in the world; 169th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Ireland

Top universities in Italy

Located in the southern peninsula of the continent, Italy is the fifth most populous country in Europe and boasts 26 internationally ranked universities. The top universities in Italy are:

1.      University of Bologna (182nd in the world; 84= in Europe)

2.      Sapienza University of Rome (202nd in the world; 90= in Europe)

3.      Politecnico di Milano (229th in the world; 106th in Europe)

4.      University of Milano (238th in the world; 111th in Europe)

5.      University of Pisa (245th in the world; 114th in Europe)

+ 21 more top universities in Italy

Top universities in the Netherlands

This Dutch-speaking country (often referred to as Holland, though in fact the region of Holland only makes up two of its provinces), boasts 13 globally ranked universities. The top universities in the Netherlands are:

1.      University of Amsterdam (50th in the world; 15th in Europe)

2.      Leiden University (75th in the world; 27th in Europe)

3.      Utrecht University (80th in the world; 29th in Europe)

4.      Delft University of Technology (86th in the world; 33rd in Europe)

5.      University of Groningen (90= in the world; 35= in Europe)

5.      Erasmus University Rotterdam (90= in the world; 35= in Europe)

+ 7 more top universities in the Netherlands

Top universities in the Nordic countries

Europe’s Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) offer 26 internationally ranked universities. Within the Nordic region, Finland claims the highest number of ranked institutions, despite being the most sparsely populated country in Europe, while Denmark offers the highest-ranked university in the group. The top universities in the Nordic countries are:


1.      University of Copenhagen (45th in the world; 13th in Europe)

2.      Aarhus University (96th in the world; 39th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Denmark


1.      University of Helsinki (67th in the world; 23rd in Europe)

2.      Aalto University (196= in the world; 86th in Europe)

+ 7 more top universities in Finland


1.      University of Oslo (101st in the world; 42nd in Europe)

2.      University of Bergen (155th in the world; 68th in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Norway


1.      Lund University (67th in the world; 20th in Europe)

2.      Uppsala University (79= in the world; 30th in Europe)

+6 more top universities in Sweden

Top universities in Russia

If you think size matters when it comes to deciding where to study in Europe, then perhaps you’ll consider Russia, the largest country in the world, and home to 21 universities included in the QS World University Rankings. The top universities in Russia are:

1.      Lomonosov Moscow State University (114th in the world; 45th in Europe)

2.      Saint-Petersburg State University (233rd in the world; 109th in Europe)

3.      Bauman Moscow State Technical University (322nd in the world; 147th in Europe)

4.      Novosibirsk State University (328th in the world; 148= in Europe)

5.      Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University, 399th in the world; 186th in Europe)

+ 16 more top universities in Russia

Top universities in Spain

Located on the Mediterranean coast, Spain is popular among both tourists and students, and claims 18 of the top European universities according to the QS World University Rankings. The top universities in Spain are:

1.      University of Barcelona (166th in the world; 73rd in Europe)

2.      Universitat Autonóma de Barcelona (173rd in the world; 76= in Europe)

3.      Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (178th in the world; 80th in Europe)

4.      University Complutense Madrid (212th in the world; 98= in Europe)

5.      University of Navarra (254th in the world; 120th in Europe)

+ 13 more top universities in Spain

Top universities in Switzerland

Home to a large chunk of the Alps mountain range, Switzerland is the only country to boast two universities in the world’s top 20, other than the US, Canada or the UK. Of Switzerland’s eight internationally ranked universities, half are in the global top 100. The top universities in Switzerland are:

1.      ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 12th in the world; 5th in Europe)

2.      Ecolé Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, 17th in the world; 7= in Europe)

3.      University of Zurich (UZH, 57th in the world; 19th in Europe)

4.      University of Geneva (85th in the world; 32nd in Europe)

5.      University of Lausanne (105th in the world; 43rd in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Switzerland

Top universities in the UK

Second only to the US in overall rankings presence, the UK has the continent’s most internationally ranked institutions, and is also the most popular destination to study in Europe. It currently boasts 4 of the world’s top 10 universities, and 7 of the 10 top universities in Europe. The top universities in the UK are:

1.      University of Cambridge (2= in the world; 1= in Europe)

1.      Imperial College London (2= in the world; 1= in Europe)

3.      University of Oxford (5= in the world; 3= in Europe)

3.      UCL (University College London, 5= in the world; 3= in Europe)

5.      King’s College London (KCL, 16th in the world; 6th in Europe)

+ 65 more top universities in the UK

Best of the rest…

That covers most of the best-known places to study in Europe as an international student. But the top universities in Europe do not end there; many more European countries are home to one or more institutions included in the QS World University Rankings. Here’s a quick round-up of the rest:


1.      Belarus State University (491-500 in the world; 218= in Europe)

2.      Belarusian National Technical University (701+ in the world; 282= in Europe)


1.      University of St. Kliment Ohridski (651-700 in the world; 272= in Europe)


1.      University of Zagreb (601-650 in the world; 259= in Europe)

Czech Republic

1.      Charles University (244th in the world; 113th in Europe)

2.      Czech Technical University in Prague (411-420 in the world; 189= in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in the Czech Republic


1.      University of Tartu (379th in the world; 176= in Europe)

2.      Tallinn University of Technology (501-550 in the world; 223= in Europe)


1.      National Technical University of Athens (441-450 in the world; 200= in Europe)

2.      University of Crete (451-460 in the world; 204= in Europe)

+ 4 more top universities in Greece


1.      University of Szeged (551-600 in the world; 243= in Europe)

2.      Eötvös Loránd University (601-650 in the world; 259= in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Hungary


1.      University of Latvia (701+ in the world 282= in Europe)


1.      Vilnius University (551-600 in the world; 243= in Europe)

2.      Kaunas University of Technology (701+ in the world; 282= in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Lithuania


1.      University of Warsaw (335th in the world; 151st in Europe)

2.      Jagiellonian University (371st in the world; 173= in Europe)

+ 4 more top universities in Poland


1.      University of Porto (293rd in the world; 137th in Europe)

2.      Universidade Nova de Lisboa (312th in the world; 144th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Portugal


1.      University of Bucharest (651-700 in the world; 272= in Europe)

2.      Alexandru loan Cuza University (701+ in the world; 282= in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Romania


1.      University of Belgrade (701+ in the world; 282= in Europe)


1.      University of Ljubljana (501-550 in the world; 223= in Europe)


1.      Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (421-430 in the world; 195= in Europe)

2.      V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (481-490 in the world; 212= in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in the Ukraine

This article was originally published on 14 November 2013. It was updated on 10 November 2014 to reflect the results of the QS World University Rankings 2014/15.

Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker

Laura is a staff writer for, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life. View her past articles and blog posts here.

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