Which UK university is best for music?

Which UK university is best for music?


norman lebrecht

September 11, 2020

The Guardian has published rankings. You’ll never guess who’s come top.

Second is Southampton (!), third Oxford.

Royal Academy of Music ranks 13th.

Full list here.


  • George says:

    I really wish they would break down the denominations of kinds of music degrees. You would have a pretty unsuccessful time becoming a full-time performer at Durham, yet would be right at home if pursuing a career in musicology/academia.

    • Emil says:

      Depends in what. Singing-wise, they’re very good: 4/22 Genesis Sixteen members last year were from Durham, for instance. Granted, that’s not a guarantee of a successful career, but it’s an indication that they’re doing something right.

  • Marina Walker says:

    Two things about Cambridge: 1) the student-to-staff ratio does not take into account a huge pool of college-based lecturers and supervisors 2) Cambridge students will never be satisfied with anything because we teach them critical thinking

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. That’s why I can’t fully agree with this comment:

      In my time there, critical thinking had to circumvent one grave taboo: it was strictly forbidden to apply our newly-acquired skills on the work and ideas of Arnold Schoenberg.

  • RankySchmanky says:

    Ranking schmanking….
    Who cares.

    The institutions are filled educators busy indoctrinating our young. Leftist croonies, or pseudo-conservatives full with apologetic cucked views they picked up from the left.

  • Lunchtime O'Boulez says:

    Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms never went to a university. I just wonder if making it academic is wise. You cannot teach creativity. Those who can do, those who can’t teach.

    In 2020 has anyone really composed anything worth listening to at all? Last century was bad enough, wrong notes and all but the 21st century seems even worse.

  • John Rook says:

    Without clicking, it looks like Durham.

  • Anonymous says:

    What a joke! Academic heaven, but not for musicians in the real world, if the profession ever gets back to normality.

  • Terence says:

    A useful guide perhaps but not comparing like with like:

    A few are performance focused conservatoires, others like Oxford academic focused and others …

    I didn’t go to each college’s website but no doubt a variety of subject matter is covered.

    Also some students may be more concerned than others with employment prospects, especially these days.

  • sycorax says:

    I’m not wondering. Durham’s chancellor is Sir Thomas Allen who does this “job” with a lot of enthusiasm. I remember especially two great concerts he gave with the choir and orchestra of the uni – first he sang Vaughan Williams Mystical songs, then I heard him – just a few weeks ago – with arias from operas in one of the colleges at Durham.

  • Jackyt says:

    I’m not a bit surprised Durham came top for Music! Fabulous University in beautiful place!

  • sam says:

    Rankings are tricky:

    if they conformed to all our expectations/prejudgements, then they are useless, not to mention you’d suspect their objectivity.

    If they confounded all our expectations, then they’d also be useless, because no one would give them any importance. (Would anyone really give up the Royal Academy for Durham? And if they did, would anyone think they made a brilliant choice?)

    Rankings can only have 1 or 2 surprises to shake things up and make people sit up and pay attention.

  • Maria says:

    Colleges of music are not universities; they are colleges of music! Can’t compare them to Durham University for academic rigour. No mention either of the Colchester School of Music, unless I’ve just missed it.

    • anonymous says:

      Colchester School of Muisc is long gone I’m afraid. Subsumed into Colchester Institute and standards have dropped. They used to have fantastic teachers (many of whom still do wonderful things with music in Colchester).

    • Anon says:

      Royal Academy of Music is part of University of London. The Conservatoires of Paris, Brussels and Moscow are in a totally different league, producing musicians not academics. There are too many who talk about music, yet cannot play to any standard!

  • RobK says:

    Feedback, in my 25 years experience. That’s what students want most of all (and what most academics, myself included, never seemed find much time or energy to give).

  • Jason Lewis says:

    It depends on what you mean by best, doesn’t it? The Guardian’s lists are based on what students think of their courses. Also, the contents of the degree courses they ‘compare’ vary enormously as do the attainment levels required to gain entry.

  • anon says:

    Having recently studied music at Durham, I can confirm it is a wonderful department with inspiring and supportive professors

    • RobK says:

      Back in 1977 I came for an interview at Durham to read Music, and loved the place (during the time of Jerome Roche and David Lusmdaine). I ended up going somewhere else, but often thought of it fondly. Not surprised it’s done so well, at least in certain areas.

  • simon says:

    After this new academic year, all subjects could / should carry a ‘quality of online teaching’ rating given that the UK Office for Students and QAA are monitoring the quality of online delivery from all HE providers. That’s sure to shake things up. Currently, like it or not, it’s a boom time for blended and online learning and things will most likely not return to pre-COVID delivery methods for a few years yet at the very least.

  • John Borstlap says:

    As far as I remember, Durham was a center of sound art, so that shows the level of understanding of music and the conformism at the place.

  • christopher storey says:

    Ooh well , if it’s a Guardian ranking we must take that as Gospel. Mustn’t we????