Only a handful of U.K. universities are deeply involved in the fight to improve global health, according to a new ranking table released yesterday at the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament. The idea behind the list—which follows a similar ranking for U.S. and Canadian universities and another one for pharmaceutical companies—is to encourage spending on global health research and to increase the pressure on stragglers to step up their efforts.
The University of Oxford came out on top in the table, followed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Imperial College London, University College London, and the University of Liverpool. These five account for 74% of the United Kingdom's global health research spending and 78% of the spending on neglected tropical disease, according to the ranking. Out of the 20 others listed in the table, eight are ranked with a D grade; only six received a B or above. The University of Cambridge, which shared the No. 2 spot in a ranking of the world's best universities last year, is 15th on the list with a C-minus grade.
The list received plaudits from Harvard University's Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners in Health, a U.S. research and aid group. The table helps "illuminate the effects of academic biomedical research on the health of the world’s poor, and hold universities accountable for the impact, or lack of impact, that their policies have on global health," Farmer said in a statement yesterday.
Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and Medsin-UK, which together produced the table, used two key criteria: "Innovation," for instance, what proportion of research funds is used for neglected diseases and how many papers focus on low- and middle-income countries; and "Access," which gauges how much universities are doing to make the fruits of their research widely available. “Despite most research funding coming from government grants, medicines developed in universities can be priced out of reach of patients in the developing world,” UAEM's Dzintars Gotham said in a statement yesterday.
LSHTM Deputy Director and Provost Anne Mills says she's "pleased" about her institute's second place. "I would expect that—we are a school of global and public health,” she says. But Mills says that the ranking system's methodology has its limitations. It relies in part on publicly available information and websites, for instance, which according to Mills helps explain why LSHTM only scored a B minus on "Access." “It’s not that we don’t make our discoveries available, it’s that we don’t have statements about it on our website,” she says.