Rankings of universities in the United Kingdom

Three national rankings of universities in the United Kingdom are published annually – by The Complete University Guide, The Guardian and jointly by The Times and The Sunday Times. Rankings have also been produced in the past by The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.

The primary aim of the rankings is to inform potential undergraduate applicants about UK universities based on a range of criteria, including entry standards, student satisfaction, staff/student ratio, academic services and facilities expenditure per student, research quality, proportion of Firsts and 2:1s, completion rates and student destinations.[1][2] All of the league tables also rank universities on their strength in individual subjects.

Each year since 2008, Times Higher Education has compiled a "Table of Tables" to combine the results of the 3 mainstream league tables. In the 2019 table, the top 5 universities were the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, Imperial College London and Loughborough University.[3]


The following rankings of British universities are produced annually:

The Complete University Guide

The Complete University Guide is compiled by Mayfield University Consultants and was published for the first time in 2007.[4]

The ranking uses ten criteria, with a statistical technique called the Z-transformation applied to the results of each.[5] The ten Z-scores are then weighted (by 1.5 for student satisfaction, 0.5 for research intensity, academic services spend and facilities spend, and 1.0 for the rest) and summed to give a total score for each university. These total scores are then transformed to a scale where the top score is set at 1,000, with the remainder being a proportion of the top score. The ten criteria are:[6]

  • "Academic services spend" – the expenditure per student on all academic services (data source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA));
  • "Degree completion" – a measure of the completion rate of students (data source: HESA);
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score of new students under the age of 21 (data source: HESA);
  • "Facilities spend" – the expenditure per student on staff and student facilities (data source: HESA);
  • "Good honours" – the proportion of firsts and upper seconds (data source: HESA);
  • "Graduate prospects" – a measure of the employability of graduates (data source: HESA);
  • "Research assessment" – a measure of the average quality of research (data source: 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF));
  • Research intensity – a measure of the fraction of staff who are research-active (data sources: HESA & REF);
  • "Student satisfaction" – a measure of the view of students on the teaching quality (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Student:staff ratio" – a measure of the average staffing level (data source: HESA).

The most recent league table (2020) ranked the top 50 (out of 131) British universities as follows:[7]

Rank (1–10) University Rank (11–20) University Rank (21–30) University Rank (31–40) University Rank (41–50) University
1 University of Cambridge =11 University of Exeter 21 University of East Anglia 31 University of Dundee 40 Queen Mary, University of London
2 University of Oxford =11 University of Warwick 22 Newcastle University 32 University of Sussex 42 University of Lincoln
3 University of St Andrews 13 University of Birmingham =23 Royal Holloway, University of London 33 University of Sheffield 43 University of Stirling
4 London School of Economics 14 University of Leeds =23 University of Surrey 34 Aston University =44 University of Essex
5 Imperial College London 15 University of Manchester 25 King's College London =35 Swansea University =44 SOAS, University of London
6 Durham University =16 University of Edinburgh 26 Cardiff University =35 Heriot-Watt University =44 University of Leicester
7 Lancaster University =16 University of Bristol 27 Harper Adams University 37 Queen's University Belfast 47 St George's, University of London
8 Loughborough University 18 University of Glasgow 28 University of Liverpool 38 Nottingham Trent University 48 University for the Creative Arts
9 University of Bath 19 University of Nottingham 29 University of Aberdeen 39 University of Strathclyde 49 University of Kent
10 University College London 20 University of Southampton 30 University of York 40 University of Reading 50 Northumbria University

On an annual basis, The Complete University Guide also produces an individual ranking for British universities across 70 subjects.[8] The Guide includes a summary table ranking universities according to how frequently they appear in the top ten of each subject ranking.

The most recent league table (2020) ranked the top 10 (out of 61) British universities as follows:[9]



University Appearances in

Subject Tables



Times in

Top Ten


in Top Ten

1 University of Cambridge 41 27 41 100.0
2 University of Oxford 37 9 37 100.0
3 Imperial College London 14 0 13 92.9
4 Durham University 33 2 30 90.9
5 University of St Andrews 24 4 21 87.5
6 London School of Economics 12 1 10 83.3
7 University of Exeter 37 0 26 70.3
8 University of Bath 26 2 18 69.2
9 University College London 37 0 25 67.6
10 Royal Veterinary College 3 0 2 66.7

The Guardian

The Guardian's ranking uses eight different criteria, each weighted between 5 and 17 per cent. Unlike other annual rankings of British universities, the criteria do not include a measure of research output.[10] A "value-added" factor is included which compares students' degree results with their entry qualifications, described by the newspaper as being "[b]ased upon a sophisticated indexing methodology that tracks students from enrolment to graduation, qualifications upon entry are compared with the award that a student receives at the end of their studies".[1] Tables are drawn up for subjects, with the overall ranking being based on an average across the subjects rather than on institutional level statistics. The eight criteria are:[1]

  • "Entry score" (17%);
  • "Feedback" – as rated by graduates of the course (5%);
  • "Job prospects" (17%) (data source: Destination of Leavers from Higher Education);
  • "Overall quality" – final-year students opinions about the overall quality of their course (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Spending per student" (17%);
  • "Student/Staff ratio" (17%);
  • "Teaching quality" – as rated by graduates of the course (10%) (data source: the National Student Survey); and
  • "Value added" (17%).

The most recent league table (2020) ranked the top 50 (out of 121) British universities as follows:[11]

Rank (1–10) University Rank (11–20) University Rank (21–30) University Rank (31–40) University Rank (41–50) University
1 University of Cambridge 11 University of Leeds 21 University of Portsmouth 31 Swansea University 41 University of Sussex
2 University of St Andrews 12 Nottingham Trent University 22 University College London 32 University of Keele 42 Royal Holloway, University of London
3 University of Oxford 13 University for the Creative Arts 23 University of Bristol 33 Oxford Brookes University =43 Liverpool Hope University
4 Loughborough University 14 University of Glasgow 24 University of Southampton 34 University of Aberdeen =43 Huddersfield University
5 Durham University 15 University of Coventry 25 University of Edinburgh 35 Newcastle University =45 University of Stirling
6 University of Bath 16 University of Birmingham =26 University of Derby 36 Aston University =45 University of Sheffield
7 Imperial College London 17 University of Lincoln =26 University of Surrey 37 Staffordshire University 47 Northumbria University
8 Lancaster University 18 University of Nottingham 28 University of the West of England, Bristol 38 Cardiff University =48 Edge Hill University
9 University of Warwick 19 London School of Economics 29 University of Dundee 39 University of the Arts London =48 Kingston University
10 University of Exeter 20 University of York 30 University of East Anglia 40 University of Manchester 50 University of Liverpool

The Times/The Sunday Times

The Times/The Sunday Times university league table, known as the Good University Guide,[12] is published in both electronic and print format and ranks institutions using the following eight criteria:[13]

  • "Student satisfaction (+50 to −55 points)" – the results of national student surveys are scored taking a theoretical minimum and maximum score of 50% and 90% respectively (data source: the National Student Survey);
  • "Teaching excellence (250)" – defined as: subjects scoring at least 22/24 points, those ranked excellent, or those undertaken more recently in which there is confidence in academic standards and in which teaching and learning, student progression and learning resources have all been ranked commendable (data source: Quality Assurance Agency; Scottish Higher Education Funding Council; Higher Education Funding Council for Wales);
  • "Heads'/peer assessments (100)" – school heads are asked to identify the highest-quality undergraduate provision (data source: The Sunday Times heads' survey and peer assessment);
  • "Research quality (200)" – based upon the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (data source: Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce));
  • "A-level/Higher points (250)" – nationally audited data for the subsequent academic year are used for league table calculations (data source: HESA);
  • "Unemployment (100)" – the number of students assume to be unemployed six months after graduation is calculated as a percentage of the total number of known desbefore completing their courses is compared with the number expected to do so (the benchmark figure shown in brackets) (data source: Hefce, Performance Indicators in Higher Education).

Other criteria considered are:

  • "Completion" – the percentage of students who manage to complete their degree;
  • "Entry standards" – the average UCAS tariff score (data source: HESA);
  • "Facilities spending" – the average expenditure per student on sports, careers services, health and counselling;
  • "Good honours" – the percentage of students graduating with a first or 2.1;
  • "Graduate prospects" – the percentage of UK graduates in graduate employment or further study (data source: HESA's survey of Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE));
  • "Library and computing spending" – the average expenditure on library and computer services per student (data source: HESA);
  • "Research" (data source: 2008 Research Assessment Exercise);
  • "Student satisfaction" (data source: National Student Survey); and
  • "Student-staff ratio" (data source: HESA).

Summary of National Rankings

The following universities rank in the top 10 in at least one of the most recent national rankings; the table is ordered according to the Times Higher Education Table of Tables (2019):[3]

University THE Table of Tables (2019)[3] Complete (2020)[7] Guardian (2020)[11] #a
University of Cambridge 1 1 1
University of Oxford 2 2 3
University of St Andrews 3 3 2
Imperial College London 5 4 7=
Loughborough University 5 8 4
Durham University 6 6 5
Lancaster University 7 7 7=
University of Warwick 8 11= 9
London School of Economics 9 4 19
University College London 10 10 22
University of Bath 11 9 6
University of Exeter 11= 10

a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 10 of one of the three national rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 5 of all three national rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 3 of all three national rankings.

Disparity with global rankings

It has been commented by The Sunday Times that a number of universities which regularly feature in the top ten of British university league tables, such as St Andrews, Durham and LSE (in the case of LSE 3rd to 13th nationally whilst only 327th in the US News & World Report Rankings / 35th in the QS Rankings / 23rd in the THE Rankings), "inhabit surprisingly low ranks in the worldwide tables", whilst other universities such as Manchester, Edinburgh and KCL "that failed to do well in the domestic rankings have shone much brighter on the international stage".[14] The considerable disparity in rankings has been attributed to the different methodology and purpose of global university rankings such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education World University Rankings. International university rankings primarily use criteria such as academic and employer surveys, the number of citations per faculty, the proportion of international staff and students and faculty and alumni prize winners.[15][16][17] When size is taken into account, LSE ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized specialist institutions (after ENS Paris) and St Andrews ranks second in the world out of all small to medium-sized fully comprehensive universities (after Brown University) using metrics from the QS Intelligence Unit in 2015.[18] The national rankings, on the other hand, give most weighting to the undergraduate student experience, taking account of teaching quality and learning resources, together with the quality of a university's intake, employment prospects, research quality and drop-out rates.[1][19]

The disparity between national and international league tables has caused some institutions to offer public explanations for the difference. LSE for example states on its website that 'we remain concerned that all of the global rankings – by some way the most important for us, given our highly international orientation – suffer from inbuilt biases in favour of large multi-faculty universities with full STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) offerings, and against small, specialist, mainly non-STEM universities such as LSE.'[20]

Research by the UK's Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in 2016 found that global rankings fundamentally measure research performance, with research-related measures accounting for over 85 percent of the weighting for both the Times Higher Education and QS rankings and 100 percent of the weighting for the ARWU ranking. HEPI also found that ARWU made no correction for the size of an institution. There were also concerns about the data quality and the reliability of reputation surveys. National rankings, while said to be "of varying validity", have more robust data and are "more highly regarded than international rankings".[21]

British universities in global rankings

The following universities rank in the top 100 of at least two global rankings:[22]

University QS World (2019)[23] THE World (2019)[24] ARWU World (2018)[25] CWTS Leiden (2018)[26] #a
University of Oxford 5 1 7 13
University of Cambridge 6 2 3 16
Imperial College London 8 9 24 30
University College London 10 14 17 20
University of Edinburgh 18 29 32 46
University of Manchester 29 57 34 68
King's College London 31 38 56 36
London School of Economics 38 26 151–200 53
University of Bristol 51 78 74 47
University of Warwick 54 79= 101–150 65
University of Glasgow 69 93= 151–200 60
Durham University 74 114= 201–300 89
University of Birmingham 79 116= 101–150 97
University of Leeds 93 153= 101–150 91
University of Southampton 96 118 101–150 99

a Number of times the university is ranked within the top 100 of one of the four global rankings.
b The university is ranked within the top 50 of all four global rankings.
c The university is ranked within the top 25 of all four global rankings.


UK university rankings have been subjected to criticism.

Accuracy and neutrality

There has been criticism of attempts to combine different rankings on for example research quality, quality of teaching, drop out rates and student satisfaction. Sir Alan Wilson, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds argues that the final average has little significance and is like trying to "combine apples and oranges".[27] He also criticised the varying weights given to different factors, the need for universities to "chase" the rankings, the often fluctuating nature of a university's ranking, and the catch-22 that the government's desire to increase access can have negative effects on league table rankings.[27] Further worries have been expressed regarding marketing strategies and propaganda used to chase tables undermining Universities values.[28]

The Guardian suggests that league tables may affect the nature of undergraduate admissions in an attempt to improve a university's league table position.[29]

Roger Brown, the former Vice-Chancellor of Southampton Solent University argues the limitations of comparative data when comparing Universities.[30]

Professor Geoffrey Alderman writing in the Guardian makes the point that by including the percentage of 'good honours' this can encourage grade inflation so that league table position can be maintained.[31]

The rankings are also criticised for not giving a full picture of higher education in the United Kingdom. There are institutions which focus on research and enjoy a prestigious reputation but are not shown in the table for various reasons. For example, the Institute of Education, University of London (now part of UCL), was not usually listed in the undergraduate rankings despite the fact that it offered an undergraduate BEd and was generally recognised as one of the best institutions offering teacher training and Education studies (for example, being given joint first place, alongside Oxford University, in the 2008 Research Assessment 'Education' subject rankings, according to both Times Higher Education and the Guardian).[32][33]

Full-time bias

League Tables, which usually focus on the full-time undergraduate student experience, commonly omit reference to Birkbeck, University of London, and the Open University, both of which specialise in teaching part-time students. These universities, however, often make a strong showing in specialist league tables looking at research, teaching quality, and student satisfaction. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, according to the Times Higher Education, Birkbeck was placed equal 33rd, and the Open University 43rd, out of 132 institutions.[34] And the 2009 student satisfaction survey placed the Open University 3rd and Birkbeck 13th out of 153 universities and higher education institutions (1st and 6th, respectively, among multi-faculty universities).[35]


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  9. ^ "Who Ranks Top of the Tables by Subject 2020". www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
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  11. ^ a b "University league tables 2020". The Guardian. London. 7 June 2019.
  12. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  13. ^ "How the guide was compiled". The Times. London. 11 September 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  14. ^ Thomas, Zoe (11 October 2009). "UK universities top the league table in Europe". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  15. ^ "About ARWU". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Archived from the original on 30 January 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  16. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2010". QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  17. ^ "Global rankings system methodology reflects universities' core missions". Times Higher Education. 7 September 2010. Archived from the original on 11 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  18. ^ "QS World University Rankings: World Map Results (Filter by Institution Profile)". Quacquarelli Symonds Intelligence Unit. Archived from the original on 6 January 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  19. ^ "The University League Table methodology 2011". The Complete University Guide. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  20. ^ Science, London School of Economics and Political. "About LSE". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  21. ^ Bahram Bekhradnia (15 December 2016). "International university rankings: For good or ill?" (PDF). Higher Education Policy Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  22. ^ 2018, Scimetrica, www.scimetrica.com - ©. "United Kingdom - Countries - Universityrankings.ch / Institutions". www.universityrankings.ch. Archived from the original on 20 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
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  25. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities – 2017". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  26. ^ "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2018 - PP top 10%". CWTS Leiden Ranking. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  27. ^ a b "Reporter 485 - 28 October 2002 - University league tables". reporter.leeds.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  28. ^ McNamara, Adam. "BULL: A new form of propaganda in the digital age". Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
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  30. ^ Brown, Roger (10 April 2007). "Tables can turn". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  31. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (24 April 2007). "League tables rule – and standards inevitably fall". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  32. ^ "Times Higher Education RAE tables" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
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  35. ^ "Student survey results 2009". 6 August 2009. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2018 – via news.bbc.co.uk.

External links

College and university rankings

College and university rankings are rankings of institutions in higher education which have been ranked on the basis of various combinations of various factors. None of the rankings give a comprehensive overview of the strengths of the institutions ranked because all select a range of easily quantifiable characteristics to base their results on. Rankings have most often been conducted by magazines, newspapers, websites, governments, or academics. In addition to ranking entire institutions, organizations perform rankings of specific programs, departments, and schools. Various rankings consider combinations of measures of funding and endowment, research excellence and/or influence, specialization expertise, admissions, student options, award numbers, internationalization, graduate employment, industrial linkage, historical reputation and other criteria. Various rankings mostly evaluating on institutional output by research. Some rankings evaluate institutions within a single country, while others assess institutions worldwide. The subject has produced much debate about rankings' usefulness and accuracy. The expanding diversity in rating methodologies and accompanying criticisms of each indicate the lack of consensus in the field. Further, it seems possible to game the ranking systems through excessive self-citations or by researchers supporting each other in surveys. UNESCO has questioned whether rankings "do more harm than good", while acknowledging that "Rightly or wrongly, they are perceived as a measure of quality and so create intense competition between universities all over the world".

Durham University

Durham University (legally the University of Durham) is a collegiate public research university in Durham, North East England, founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1837. It was the first recognised university to open in England for more than 600 years, after Oxford and Cambridge, and is thus one of the institutions to be described as the third-oldest university in England. As a collegiate university its main functions are divided between the academic departments of the university and its 16 colleges. In general, the departments perform research and provide teaching to students, while the colleges are responsible for their domestic arrangements and welfare.

The university is a member of the Russell Group of British research universities after previously being a member of the 1994 Group. Durham is also affiliated with the regional N8 Research Partnership and international university groups including the Matariki Network of Universities and the Coimbra Group. The university estate includes 63 listed buildings, ranging from the 11th-century Durham Castle to a 1930s Art Deco chapel. The university also owns and manages the Durham World Heritage Site in partnership with Durham Cathedral. The university's ownership of the World Heritage Site includes Durham Castle, Palace Green, and the surrounding buildings including the historic Cosin's Library.Among British universities, it had the eighth highest average UCAS Tariff for new entrants in 2016 and the third lowest proportion of state-school educated students starting courses in 2016, at 62.9 per cent (fifth lowest compared to its benchmark). The university is currently ranked 5th to 7th by recent national league tables of the British universities, 74th to 114th in three of the four major global tables and in the 201–300 range in the fourth (see below). It was Sunday Times University of the Year for 2005, and the Times and Sunday Times Sports University of the Year for 2015, and was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2018.The chancellor of the university is Sir Thomas Allen, who succeeded Bill Bryson in 2012. Current and emeritus academics include 14 Fellows of the Royal Society, 17 Fellows of the British Academy, 14 Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences, 5 Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2 Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts and 2 Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Durham graduates have long used the Latin post-nominal letters Dunelm after their degree, from Dunelmensis (of, belonging to, or from Durham).

Teaching Excellence Framework

The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (or TEF) is a government assessment of the quality of undergraduate teaching in universities and other higher education providers in England, which may be used from 2020 to determine whether state-funded providers are permitted to raise tuition fees. Higher education providers from elsewhere in the United Kingdom are allowed to opt-in, but the rating has no impact on their funding. The TEF rates universities as Gold, Silver or Bronze, in order of quality of teaching. The first results were published in June 2017. This was considered a "trial year" (even though the non-provisional ratings awarded are valid for 3 years) and is to be followed by a "lessons learned exercise" that will feed into the 2018 TEF and longer-term plans for subject-level ratings.In October 2017 the official title of the exercise was officially renamed from Teaching Excellence Framework to the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.

Universities in the United Kingdom

Universities in the United Kingdom have generally been instituted by Royal Charter, Papal Bull, Act of Parliament, or an instrument of government under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 or the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. Degree awarding powers and university title are protected by law, although the precise arrangements for gaining these vary between the constituent countries of the United Kingdom.

Institutions that hold degree awarding powers are termed recognised bodies, this list includes all universities, university colleges and colleges of the University of London, some higher education colleges, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Degree courses may also be provided at listed bodies, leading to degrees validated by a recognised body. Undergraduate applications to almost all UK universities are managed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

While legally, 'university' refers to an institution that has been granted the right to use the title, in common usage it now normally includes colleges of the University of London, including in official documents such as the Dearing Report.The representative bodies for higher education providers in the United Kingdom are Universities UK and GuildHE.

University of Exeter

The University of Exeter is a public research university in Exeter, Devon, South West England, United Kingdom. It was founded and received its Royal Charter in 1955, although its predecessor institutions, St Luke's College, Exeter School of Science, Exeter School of Art, and the Camborne School of Mines were established in 1838, 1855, 1863, and 1888 respectively. In post-nominals, the University of Exeter is abbreviated as Exon. (from the Latin Exoniensis), and is the suffix given to honorary and academic degrees from the university.

The university has four campuses: Streatham and St Luke's (both of which are in Exeter); and Truro and Penryn (both of which are in Cornwall). The university is primarily located in the city of Exeter, Devon, where it is the principal higher education institution. Streatham is the largest campus containing many of the university's administrative buildings, and is regarded as the most beautiful in the country. The Penryn campus is maintained in conjunction with Falmouth University under the Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) initiative. The Exeter Streatham Campus Library holds more than 1.2 million physical library resources, including historical journals and special collections.Exeter was named the Sunday Times University of the Year in 2013 and was the Times Higher Education University of the Year in 2007. It has maintained a top ten position in the National Student Survey since the survey was launched in 2005. The annual income of the institution for 2017–18 was £415.5 million of which £76.1 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £414.2 million.Exeter is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities and is also a member of Universities UK, the European University Association, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities and an accredited institution of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

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