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OX PHOTO

Oxford and Cambridge top the list of best universities in the world

The UK is still home to the top two universities in the world, according to the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Oxford University is on top for the third consecutive year, while Cambridge keeps its second best position for the second year in a row.

However, UK is no longer the second most-represented nation in the rankings. Despite the UK having 98 institutions in the full list of 1,258, it loses its spot to Japan which claims 103 positions. The UK does however retain its status as second most-represented in the top 200.

The US’s Stanford University completes the top three, maintaining it position from last year. The US still leads the way as most-represented with 172 institutions in the list.

This year’s ranking see the University of Dundee and Royal Holloway slipping out of the global 200.

China’s new top university, Tsinghua, claims 25th spot, and overtakes the UK’s LSE for, which falls one spot to 26, and the University of Edinburgh which drops from joint 27 to 29.

There are a number of climbers in the UK, with University College London rising two spots to number 14, and the University of Warwick scaling 12 places to joint 79th.

The University of Birmingham jumps 25 positions to joint 116, while the University of Aberdeen leaps 27 positions to 158th.

Phil Baty, editorial director of the global rankings, said: ‘We see some individual stars in the UK this year, but the broader national data story is really one of stagnation and modest decline, with the UK taking a minor hit to its research reputation.

‘We can only speculate at this stage as to any connection with Brexit, the risk, however, to the UK’s reputation and research capabilities from its separation with Europe is very real.

‘The ground-breaking work of UK universities mustn’t be undermined by complacency and politicking.

‘To ensure they continue to thrive on the global stage, positive immigration and investment policies are crucial.

They must be free to attract and retain the very best international talent and international students post-Brexit, and they must be protected from cuts, the flow of research funding and academic talent mustn’t be impacted.

Social Mob PHOTO

Advisory firms dominate top employers list for social mobility

The list, published by the Social Mobility Foundation, revealed that three-quarters of the employers it surveyed considered social diversity a priority. Last year it was led by accounting company Grant Thornton, which this year was ranked second.

The Social Mobility Employer Index ranks UK employers on actions they are taking to make roles open to candidates from all backgrounds, after previous research has shown that people from more affluent backgrounds tend to take a disproportionate number of the best jobs.

Recent research from the Sutton Trust found that only about a fifth of children of low-income families went on to become high earners. It also found that almost three-quarters of the children of graduates in the UK went to university – compared with a fifth of children from low-income families.

The Foundation discovered that around three-quarters (74%) of respondents feel clients care about the socio-economic diversity of their workforce, with similar proportions saying the same of race (77%) and gender (86%).

More than half ask new employees whether or not their parents went to university or the type of school they attended. Thirty percent ask whether or not candidates were eligible for free school meals.

Its research also showed that employers’ focus on elite Oxbridge and Russell Group universities to source talent is waning – the percentage of visits made to Russell Group institutions this year was 56%, compared to 70% last year. Oxford and Cambridge are still visited more than 75 universities combined, however.

The top 10 employers ranked in the index (below) was dominated by professional services and law firms:

  • KPMG UK LLP
  • Grant Thornton UK
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
  • Deloitte
  • PwC
  • EY
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car
  • Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent
  • Baker McKenzie

More than four in 10 employers now analyse their recruitment processes to see where those from lower socio-economic groups may be falling through the gaps, said the Social Mobility Foundation.

“Blind” CVs are in common use – one in four now remove the candidate’s name from the application or screening stage, while one in five remove the name of their university to avoid bias creeping into shortlisting decisions.

However, despite improvements, the Foundation discovered there were still obstacles to overcome: five in 10 hires in government departments and agencies are from Russell Group universities, and this rose to eight in 10 in law firms. Some law firms hired more than 90% of staff from this group of universities, even where only half of their applicants had studied there.

Around one in eight (16%) employees who considered themselves working class felt they needed to hide their class background in the workplace, the Index found.

David Johnston, the Social Mobility Foundation’s chief executive, said: “We can really see organisations taking a whole host of actions to try and ensure that they have a diverse workforce in terms of socio-economic background as well as in terms of gender and race; they in turn are benefiting from accessing a much wider talent pool than they have traditionally recruited from.”

Alan Milburn, former chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said that the results reflected a “mood for change” in the nation. “[Employers] are making these changes both because they see the social need to do so and because they recognise the business benefit that greater diversity can bring.”

The Social Mobility Employer Index is a voluntary survey that assesses employers across seven areas, including the work they do with young people, their recruitment and selection processes and how people from lower income backgrounds progress within their organisations.

More than 100 employers from 18 sectors, collectively employing over one million people, entered this year.

Stewart PHOTO

Meet the $5bn tech boss who grew up without electricity

The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles a different business leader from around the world. This week we spoke to Stewart Butterfield, the founder of technology companies Flickr and Slack.

It is not the sort of upbringing you’d associate with one of Silicon Valley’s heavyweights.

But Stewart Butterfield spent the first five years of his life living on a commune in remote Canada after his father fled the US to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

The young Mr Butterfield and his parents lived in a log cabin in a forest in British Columbia, and for three years they had no running water or electricity.

“My parents were definitely hippies,” says Mr Butterfield, whose mother and father had named him Dharma. “They wanted to live off the land, but it turns out there was a lot of work involved, so we moved back to the city.”

After the family relocated to Victoria, the capital of British Colombia, Mr Butterfield saw his first computer when he was seven, and taught himself to programme from that very young age.

Fast-forward to today and 46-year-old Stewart Butterfield – who founded both photo-sharing website Flickr, and business messaging service Slack – has an estimated personal fortune of $650m (£500m).

But perhaps in part due to his unusual upbringing he says he tries to live frugally.

“In truth I feel guilty spending too much money,” he says. “As a Canadian that world seems very strange and alien to me.”

Mr Butterfield also puts much of his success down to luck.

Mr Butterfield says that his seven-year-old self was fascinated by the first wave of personal computers.

“I was around seven in 1980, it must have been an Apple II or IIE that my parents bought,” he says. “I taught myself to code using computer magazines.”

Mr Butterfield – who changed his first name to Stewart when he was 12 – learned to make basic computer games.

However, he lost interest in computers while at high school, and ended up going on to study philosophy at the University of Victoria. From there he did a masters in the subject at Cambridge University in the UK.

In 1997 he was about to try to become a professor of philosophy when the internet “really started to take off”.

“People who knew how to make websites were moving to San Francisco, and I had a bunch of friends who were making twice as much, or three times as much, as what professors were making,” he says. “It was new and exciting.”

So Mr Stewart decided to give up academia and move to Silicon Valley.

After working as a web designer for several years he launched an online game in 2002 with future Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, Mr Butterfield’s then-wife.

The game – called Game Neverending – failed to take off, and the pair were running out of cash. Frantically looking for a plan B they hit upon the idea of Flickr, going on to build the photo-sharing platform in just three months.

“The first camera phones were also coming out, and more and more households were getting internet connectivity, and then stuff happened so fast,” says Mr Butterfield.

Launched in 2004, Flickr was the one of the first websites to allow people to upload, share, tag and comment on photos.

Just a year later the founders sold the firm to internet giant Yahoo for $25m – although Mr Butterfield has since said this was the “wrong decision” as waiting longer could have meant a much bigger deal.

Nevertheless he moved on to bigger things with Slack.

It was 2009 and he and some partners had set up another online game, and again it failed. It did, however, spark a brainwave.

“As we were working on the game we developed a system for internal communication that we really loved,” says Mr Butterfield. “We didn’t think about it, it was very much in the background. But after a few years we thought maybe other people would like it too.”

It formed the basis for Slack, a service that today boasts eight million daily users, three million of whom pay for the more advanced features, and more than 70,000 corporate clients.

Slack enables employees to communicate and collaborate with each other in groups at work, and it has grown rapidly. IBM, Samsung, 21st Century Fox and Marks & Spencer are just a few big names to have signed up. Following a number of investment rounds Slack is now valued at $5.1bn.

Chris Green, a technology analyst at consultancy Bright Bee, says it is rare for an entrepreneur to create something successful out of the ashes of a failed project, and “almost unheard of to do it twice”.

“But if you look at Stewart’s career, it’s not just luck, he’s always been innovating in the background and looking for ways to bring order to chaos,” says Mr Green.

“That’s what Flickr and Slack have both done in their own ways.”

Slack does have competitors, though. Microsoft now offers a rival service for free with its Office 365 package, and start-up Zoom boasts a more expansive offering for about the same price.

“There is immense competition from some big well-funded companies so Slack will need to keep evolving,” Mr Green says.

Big tech firms have found themselves in the firing line for not paying enough tax – but Mr Butterfield says he would be happy for Slack to pay more taxes.

“I’d also like to see a more equitable tax policy. I have no problem paying tax. I don’t think companies are taxed enough, or critically, in the right way.”

Regarding the future, Mr Butterfield says that, unlike Flickr, he has no intention of leaving Slack.

“So many things had to go right get to this position – amazing luck was involved – and I am not so smart that I can just make it happen again,” he says.

“So if I ever wanted to see how far I could take it, this would definitely be the time to do that.”