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Top Universities in Europe

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It may be the second-smallest continent on Earth, but Europe claims many of the world’s best educational institutions. In the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017, a total of 348 European universities are featured among the world’s top 900 (roughly 38%). The UK boasts Europe’s highest number of internationally ranked universities with 71 entries, followed by Germany (43) and France (39). Meanwhile Switzerland claims one of the world’s top 10 universities, with a second entrant in the top 15, leading a group of smaller European countries with very strong higher education systems.


With such a large selection of top universities in Europe to choose from, deciding 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 categorized by country, based on the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017.

Top universities in Austria 

University of Vienna

A landlocked country in central Europe, Austria shares borders with eight other European nations, 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 (155th in the world; 63rd in Europe)

2.      Vienna University of Technology (joint 183rd in the world; joint 82nd in Europe)

3.      Universität Innsbruck (joint 299th in the world; 135th in Europe)

4.      Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz (461-470 in the world; joint 202nd in Europe)

5.      Johannes Kepler University Linz (551-600 in the world; joint 229th in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Austria

Top universities in Belgium 

Known for its fine chocolate and beer, Belgium is also home to some excellent educational establishments. This year it claims eight of the top universities in Europe to be internationally ranked, with all but two of these placed within the top 300 worldwide. The top universities in Belgium are:

1.      KU Leuven (79th in the world; 26th in Europe)

2.      Ghent University (joint 131st in the world; 52nd in Europe)

3.      Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL, 154th in the world; 62nd in Europe)

4.      Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, 182nd in the world; 81st in Europe)

5.      Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, joint 216th in the world; 95th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Belgium

Top universities in France 

Ecolé Normale Supérieure, Paris

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 (33rd in the world; 10th in Europe)

2.     Ecolé Polytechnique (joint 53rd in the world; 14th in Europe)

3.     Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC, joint 141st in the world; joint 57th in Europe)

4.     CentraleSupélec (new entry this year – joint 164th in the world and joint 68th in Europe)

5.     Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (joint 177th in the world; joint 76th in Europe)

+ 34 more top universities in France

Top universities in Germany 

Offering free tuition to all undergraduate students, regardless of nationality, Germany is one of the world’s most popular non-Anglophone destination for international students. The top universities in Germany are:

1. Technische Universität München (60th in the world; 16th in Europe)

2. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (joint 68th in the world, joint 19th in Europe)

3. Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (72nd in the world; 20th in Europe)

4. Kit, Karlsruher Institut Für Technologie (joint 98th in the world, joint 35th in Europe)

5. Humboldt-Universität Zu Berlin (joint 121st in the world, joint 46th in Europe)

 + 38 more top universities in Germany

Top universities in Ireland 

Trinity College Dublin

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 (joint 98th in the world; joint 35th in Europe)

2.      University College Dublin (176th in the world; 75th in Europe)

3.      National University of Ireland, Galway (joint 249th in the world; 111th in Europe)

4.      University College Cork (joint 283rd in the world; joint 129th in Europe)

5.      Dublin City University (joint 380th in the world; 172nd in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Ireland

Top universities in Italy 

Located in the southern peninsula of the continent and much-loved for its weather, cuisine and beautiful settings, Italy is the sixth most populous country in Europe and boasts 28 internationally ranked universities. The top universities in Italy are:

1.      Politecnico di Milano (joint 183rd in the world; joint 82nd in Europe)

2.      University of Bologna (208th in the world; 91st in Europe)

3.      Sapienza University of Rome (joint 223rd in the world; 98th in Europe)

4.      Politecnico di Torino (305th in the world; 137th in Europe)

5.      Università Degli Studi Di Padova (joint 338th in the world; joint 149th in Europe)

 + 23 more top universities in Italy

Top universities in the Netherlands 

University of Amsterdam

This Dutch-speaking country towards the north of the continent (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 (57th in the world; 15th in Europe)

2.      Delft University of Technology (62nd in the world; 17th in Europe)

3.      Leiden University (joint 102nd in the world; 38th in Europe)

4.      Utrecht University (joint 104th in the world; 39th in Europe)

5.      University of Groningen (joint 113th in the world; joint 42nd in Europe)

+ 8 more top universities in the Netherlands

Top universities in the Nordic countries 

Europe’s Nordic countries (DenmarkFinlandIceland, Norway and Sweden) offer 27 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 (joint 68th in the world; joint 19th in Europe)

2. Technical University of Denmark (109th in the world; 41st in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Denmark


1.      University of Helsinki (91st in the world; 31st in Europe)

2.      Aalto University (joint 133rd in the world; 53rd in Europe)

+ 8 more top universities in Finland


1.      University of Oslo (joint 113th in the world; joint 42nd in Europe) 

2.      University of Bergen (joint 177th in the world; 76th in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Norway


1. Lund University (73rd in the world; 22nd in Europe)

2. KTH Royal Institute of Technology (97th in the world; 34th in Europe)

+6 more top universities in Sweden

Top universities in Russia 

Lomonosov Moscow State University

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 22 universities included in the QS World University Rankings. The top universities in Russia are:

1.      Lomonosov Moscow State University (108th in the world; 40th in Europe)

2.      Saint-Petersburg State University (258th in the world; 114th in Europe)

3.      Novosibirsk State University (joint 291st in the world; 132nd in Europe)

4.      Bauman Moscow State Technical University (joint 306th in the world; 138th in Europe)

5.      Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology State University (joint 350th in the world; joint 155th in Europe)

+ 17 more top universities in Russia

Top universities in Spain 

Acclaimed for its buzzing cities and attractive Mediterranean coast, Spain is popular among tourists and students alike, and claims 21 of the top European universities according to the QS World University Rankings. The top universities in Spain are:

1.      University of Barcelona (joint 160th in the world; 66th in Europe)

2.      Universitat Autonóma de Barcelona (joint 203rd in the world; 89th in Europe)

3.      Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (joint 210th in the world; joint 93rd in Europe)

4.      University Complutense Madrid (UCM - joint 239th in the world; joint 105th in Europe)

5.      University of Navarra (joint 245th in the world; 109th in Europe)

+ 16 more top universities in Spain

Top universities in Switzerland 

ETH Zurich

Home to a large portion of the Alps mountain range, Switzerland is the only country other than the US or the UK to claim a university in the world’s top 10. It has a second entrant in the top 15, and half of its eight internationally ranked universities are in the global top 100. The top universities in Switzerland are:

1.      ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 8th in the world; 4th in Europe)

2.      Ecolé Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, 14th in the world; 6th in Europe)

3.      University of Zurich (UZH, 80th in the world; 27th in Europe)

4.      University of Geneva (joint 95th in the world; 33rd in Europe)

5.      University of Lausanne (138th in the world; 54th 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 region’s largest selection of internationally ranked institutions, and is also the most popular destination to study in Europe. It currently boasts four of the world’s top 10 universities, and seven of the 10 top universities in Europe. The top universities in the UK are:

1.      University of Cambridge (4th in the world; 1st in Europe)

2.      University of Oxford (6th in the world; 2nd in Europe)

3.       UCL (University College London; 7th in the world; 3rd in Europe)

4.       Imperial College London (9th in the world; 5th in Europe)    

5.      University of Edinburgh (19th in the world; 7th in Europe)

+ 66 more top universities in the UK

Top universities in Greece 

1.      National Technical University of Athens (joint 395th in the world; 178th in Europe)

2.      Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (491-500 in the world; joint 209th in Europe)

+ 4 more top universities in Greece

Best of the rest…

University of Tartu

The list above 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 (354th in the world; 158th in Europe)

2.      Belarusian National Technical University (701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)


1.      University of St. Kliment Ohridski (651-700 in the world; joint 263rd in Europe)


1.      University of Zagreb (651-700 in the world; joint 263rd in Europe)

Czech Republic 

1.      Charles University (joint 302nd in the world; 136th in Europe)

2.      Czech Technical University in Prague (501-550 in the world; joint 212th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in the Czech Republic


1.      University of Tartu (joint 347th in the world; joint 152nd in Europe)

2.      Tallinn University of Technology (601-650 in the world; joint 244th in Europe)

University of Szeged


1.      University of Szeged (501-550 in the world; joint 212th in Europe) 

2.      Eötvös Loránd University (601-650 in the world; joint 244th in Europe)

+ 4 more top universities in Hungary


1.      University of Latvia (651-700 in the world; joint 263rd in Europe)


1.      Vilnius University (481-490 in the world; joint 205th in Europe)

2.      Kaunas University of Technology (701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Lithuania


1.      University of Warsaw (joint 366th in the world; joint 164th in Europe)

2.      Jagiellonian University (431-440 in the world; joint 193rd in Europe)

+ 4 more top universities in Poland


1.      University of Porto (323rd in the world; 143rd in Europe)

2.      University of Lisbon (joint 330th in the world; joint 146th in Europe)

+ 3 more top universities in Portugal


1.      Alexandru loan Cuza University (701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)

2.      Babes-Bolyai University (701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)

+ 2 more top universities in Romania


1.      University of Belgrade (701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)


1. Comenius University in Bratislava (651-700 in the world; joint 263rd in Europe)


1. University of Ljubljana (601-650 in the world; joint 244th in Europe)

2. University of Maribor (new entry this year, 701+ in the world; joint 283rd in Europe)


1.      V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University (joint 382nd in the world; joint 173rd in Europe)

2.      Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (431-440 in the world; joint 193rd in Europe) 

+ 4 more top universities in Ukraine

This article was originally published on 14 November 2013. It was last updated in September 2016 to reflect the results of the QS World University Rankings® 2016-2017.

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Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former 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.

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