King’s crowned top uni law faculty for research ahead of UCL, LSE and Oxbridge

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The best — and the worst — university law schools for research have been revealed


King’s College has beaten off bitter London rivals UCL and LSE — not to mention Oxford and Cambridge — to top the official rankings of the best university law faculties for research.

LSE’s law school bags second place in the UK Research Excellence Framework list, which assesses the quality of research across all university departments in the UK to determine the allocation of around £2 billion in annual research funding.

Durham follows at third, with surprise strong-performer Ulster University coming in at fourth in a major boost to its prestige.

UCL, meanwhile, finds itself in fifth place for law, alongside York but above Cambridge, Leeds and Bristol. Oxford only manages tenth place, which it shares with Warwick and Sheffield.


Just outside the top ten comes a gaggle of big name university law schools including Cardiff, Edinburgh and Nottingham (see the rankings in full below).

However several prominent Russell Group players — which have traditionally prided themselves on their research capabilities — performed disappointingly. For example, Southampton and Newcastle could only manage 38th and 33rd place respectively. Liverpool (28th), Manchester (23rd) and Birmingham (21st) all probably should have done better too.

Given the poor performance of most of these outfits in the National Student Survey of teaching standards earlier this year, serious questions will now be asked about what exactly some of these Russell Groupers actually offer to students.

Still, it’s important to note that there have been questions raised about the research rankings’ methodology, with critics arguing that law schools’ strength in depth has not been properly rewarded. Ulster’s law faculty, for example, entered only 19 staff into its UK Research Excellence Framework submission, while Oxford entered 109 — yet the plucky Northern Irish upstart somehow managed to come out on top.

The top university law faculties for research: full list

1. King’s College London
2. LSE
3. Durham
4. Ulster
5. UCL
5. York
7. Cambridge
8. Leeds
9. Bristol
10. Oxford
10. Warwick
10. Sheffield
13. Cardiff
14. Edinburgh
15. Nottingham
15. Queen’s Belfast
17. Kent
18. Queen Mary
19. Exeter
20. Lancaster
21. Birmingham
21. UEA
23. Manchester
23. Glasgow
23. Birkbeck
26. Leicester
26. Essex
28. SOAS
28. Liverpool
30. Keele
31. Reading
32. Strathclyde
33. Newcastle
34. Dundee
35. Aberdeen
35. Middlesex
37. City
38. Southampton
39. Swansea
40. Sussex
40. Stirling
42. Aberystwyth
43. UEL
44. Surrey
45. Brunel
46. Westminster
46. Hull
48. Northumbria
48. Liverpool John Moores
50. De Monfort
51. UWE
52. Edge Hill
52. Nottingham Trent
54. Uclan
55. Bangor
56. Lincoln
57. Oxford Brookes
58. Birmingham City
59. Robert Gordon
60. Derby
61. Anglia Ruskin
62. Bedfordshire
63. Wolverhampton
64. Greenwich
65. Sunderland
65. Abertay
67. London Met

Rankings via the Times Higher Education Supplement.



great news (being a KCL grad.) but that picture is of Somerset House. Sorry.



KCL’s law faculty is now in the East Wing of Somerset House, so I think the picture is relevant.



The law school is based in part of Somerset House.



Which is where KCL law school is located.



To what extent does/should a law school’s research ranking matter to students? I always regarded research ratings as being of, at best fairly nebulous relevance to students, at worst, completely irrelevant: most students simply want the best preparation for practice, surely – i.e. teaching?




Who cares what is in the minds of pre-undergraduates who imagine that law school is merely some sort of conveyor belt to a job? This ranking concerns precisely those postgrads who are interested in other than just what you describe.

Law is not just something to beat the other guy over the head with, Orson Lannister-style. Grunt grunt grunt.



No doubt Strand Poly will be printing this “study” absolutely everywhere for the next year, but what the study fails to consider is the breadth of the research undertaken by different Universities. Whilst Oxford and Cambridge bother to spend money on areas which are almost completely neglected elsewhere (Roman law, civil procedure, tax law, medical law to a large degree, legal history, jurisprudence to a degree & IP law), the other Universities simply don’t bother. Instead they prefer to chase the research money and the glamour, with any subject not seen as a cash cow ignored. All well and good if all you care about is your performance in one of these tables, less so if you actually care about academia generally. The UK continues to slip in comparison to foreign Universities, and the simply reason is because only Oxbridge retains any commitment to a truly broad faculty where money is not the primary factor in every decision.



KCL is a leader in medical law and ethics and is famous for it work in this area. Jurisprudence is compulsory at KCL, but optional at Cambridge. Roman law is available at KCL, it is just not compulsory in 21st century. Overall, there is little to no difference in the ams of Oxbridge, KCL, LSE or UCL. They all offer the same intellectual experience. The core difference with Oxbridge is the College experience, which cannot be matched.



Oh right because KCL has been recently funded about £20 million by the Hongkong owner of Harvey Nichols while others do not have such privilege and are being cut heavily. In term of quality, I laugh my ass off to see KCL ranking above Oxbridge.



Despite King’s losing several professors to UCL recently



KCL lost professors to UCL 2 years ago the trend has been the other way since: Professor Tasioulas is the latest to leave UCL for KCL.



How lovely it is to see humility. I think it’s hilarious (in a good way) when any university comes ahead of Oxbridge in any sort of ranking. One gets to see how arrogant and bitter some (yes, some) students and graduates of those two institutions really are. Is it not at all possible that, nowadays, some universities are just as good as Oxbridge in some respects? (Notice how I said “in some respects”.) Perhaps it is time to consider that Oxford and Cambridge are no longer the leading institutions in certain fields, even if, perhaps, they are the best overall/on average.

Incognito: “most students simply want the best preparation for practice, surely”. Not necessarily. One does not necessarily study law at university in order to become a lawyer; I think only around 2/3 of graduates become lawyers (please correct me if I’m wrong). In fact, it would probably be more advisable to do an easier subject, get a fantastic grade, and then do the GDL. Studying law at undergraduate level should denote a commitment to the academic discipline of law and not just its usefulness for practice. Thus, research rankings are not completely irrelevant; they indicate that an institution has world-class professors who are at the forefront of developing the academic discipline of law. This will certainly be relevant to at least some, if not many, students who are seriously interested in law.

Anonymous 4:07pm: “Oxford and Cambridge bother to spend money on areas which are almost completely neglected elsewhere …”. I would be interested to see the evidence for this; it seems highly exaggerated. Also, who gives a s**t about Roman law?



Great for the London universities but as we know a good researcher does not make for a good lecturer. And I wrote lecturer, not teacher, to ensure my meaning isn’t misunderstood.



Thank you for this informative article, Alex.
It is understandable that in the current competitve market, legal profession recruiters seek to construct criteria for selection of high calibre candidates. The problem is that purely defaulting to top league university law graduates does not necessarily mean that all such candidates will trounce in enthusiasm, ability and work-ethic those from lower league institutions. There are problems in higher league institutions, pegged according to research ratings, as this article demonstrates. If research output determines university rank, what kind and calibre of output are we seeing? I know of several ‘proper’ universities where the research output of their lecturers teaching core legal subjects on LLBs is published books and articles on the pseudo-subject, feminist legal studies. These lecturers have never seen the inside of a law firm or barrister’s chambers, so their knowledge of law is purely theoretical. They would prefer to preach and recruit for their pet modules than parrot core topics to undergraduates.
There are indeed quite a lot of universities which offer law students a raw deal in tems of poor teaching and a threadbare number of lectures and seminars . I agree that we need a more standardised course and examination for law students to avoid ideological taint and gear students towards the working world to which most of these students aspire.
I am an older generation lawyer, I studied my CPE at what was then a polytechnic in the 1990s. Many of these postgrad students went on to become solicitors and barristers. The students hailed from all kinds of universities across the UK. Those with 2.i undergrad degrees fared best. It therefore does not automatically follow that polytechnics offer(ed) poor quality legal education. The CPE was intensive, did what it said on the tin within a year, gave us the basics for our careers without the flannel and fluff of some of these undergraduate law programmes (and only fees to pay for one year). Maybe all law courses should be CPE/GDL-type with a mandatory additional legal practice element (e.g. pro bono university based placement or similar) to prepare them for their future careers?).
From a legal academic: BA (Hons), CPE, MA and PhD


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