Europe has been educating scholars since 1088, when the first university in Bolgona was established. From Frances Bacon to Albert Einstein, Europe has spawned some of the greatest minds in science and has been the epicentre for many landmark discoveries and ground-breaking inventions.
Today several universities continue to maintain their reputation for innovation, advancements in research and enterprise. It is no wonder that many European institutions constantly rank high amongst their global peers as some of the top places to study engineering.
Alongside outstanding educational credentials, Europe offers more to learners in the way of living quality and cultural experience. Cities in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands are often regarded as some of the best places in the world to live, and from Leuven to Lausanne, European cities are reputed for their mélange of history and culture with metropolitan refinements. Most universities participate in the Erasmus exchange programme, giving students a chance to experience other parts of Europe and indeed, the world.
The PE list combines statistics from three widely published and respected league tables, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (AWRU), the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings, to determine each university's position. This list also highlights past and ongoing research at the different institutions to provide some insight into the university’s current orientation.
1. Cambridge University, UK
One of the world’s oldest academic institutions, the University of Cambridge has consistently ranked in the world’s top five places to study. With its extensive resources, including libraries, museums and collections, the university offers great learning opportunities to it attendees. There are 92 Nobel laureates affiliated with Cambridge.
The university has more than 5,000 academic staff and almost 19,000 students, of which 6,625 are international, studying at its 31 colleges. Cambridge is famed for leading research in various subjects as diverse as arts and humanities, social sciences, clinical medicine, technology, physical and biological sciences. The Engineering department is the largest at the university with more than 1,000 undergraduates and around 600 research students.
Engineering research at the university includes work on advanced lattice structured materials, particularly research into a new procedure for generating multi-phase lattice materials. Researchers have also developed a system to make a machine ‘see’ and accurately identify where it is and what it’s looking, with metrics that categorise the various components of a road environment. The study has potential implications for the development of autonomous vehicles and robotics.
2. Imperial College, UK
Imperial College London is a world class centre for education and research in science, engineering, medicine and management. Past and present staff have held administrative positions in the UK government's Office for Science and have acted as advisers to the Ministry of Defence.
The university has 15,317 students of which almost 8,000 are international, and 3,722 academic faculty staff. The Engineering faculty is one of the largest in Europe with around 6,000 students. Its undergraduate engineering programme offers a year abroad, year in industry or specialisation in nuclear engineering.
Scientists from the institution recently made a breakthrough with technology that enables the user to control a robotic hand via arm movements and muscle vibrations. The technology could be used for advanced prosthetics in the future.
A positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) project focusing on the design and construction of nuclear facilities is looking to develop a general system for automating construction processes, by combining cheap sensors with a single software platform for tracking parts and people.
A research group is anticipating the electrification of road vehicles in the future and is looking into the failure of electric batteries. It aims to develop tools that can predict battery performance to aid in the design thermal management systems to help minimise failure rates.
3. ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland
ETH Zurich was founded in 1855 and is consistently ranked among the best five universities in Europe, as well as the 10 best universities of the world. Beyond its world-class education, Switzerland is frequently rated as one of the best places to live. ETH Zurich also boasts 21 Nobel Laureates, including its most famous alumnus, Albert Einstein. With Zurich as the economic heart of Switzerland, this fosters close links between the school, businesses and industry.
The university educates more than 18,616 students from over 110 different countries, including 4,000 doctoral students. Around two-thirds of all professors are international and form part of its 2,471 academic staff. The department of Mechanical and Process Engineering (D-MAVT) is the largest of the 16 at the institution. The university also offers diplomas in mechanical and process engineering and a number of other specialist areas. Most undergraduate courses are taught in German, while masters and doctoral programmes are delivered in English.
Researchers at the institution developed the world's first flying machine comprising a single moving part – an omnicopter capable of flying in any direction. Other studies at the university have investigated high pressure processes on a micro and macro scale, robots, vehicles, nuclear power plants and wind turbines.
4. Oxford University, UK
The University of Oxford is a research-driven institution and is rated as one of Europe's most innovative universities, with extensive global links. Teaching has existed at Oxford since circa 1096, and the establishment has spawned 26 Nobel Prizes winners as well as 26 British prime ministers, including the incumbent, David Cameron.
Around 20,000 students with 140 nationalities attend its 44 colleges and halls, while 40% of its 6,200 academic staff are of international origin. The university has more than 5,000 researchers and support staff. The student experience includes internships and study opportunities outside of the UK and support for independent research abroad. The department of Engineering Science, one of the largest departments in the University, produces around 160 engineering graduates every year.
Oxford University researchers are part of a collaborative project to understand and combat ‘hydrogen embrittlement’ that can affect metals like steel, zirconium and titanium. They are ‘building the metals of the future’ that can retain their strength in the presence of hydrogen. Oxford University researchers have also developed a new method that makes it possible to study whether the deterioration of nuclear fusion reactor materials in the face of extreme radiation may cause catastrophic thermal failure.
5. École Polytechnique Fédérale di Lausanne, Switzerland
The École Polytechnique Fédérale di Lausanne (EPFL) is a cosmopolitan university and claimed the top spot as the most international university in the world in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2014 and 2015. The school, funded and controlled by the Swiss federal government, specialises in physical sciences and engineering.
Students – 9,750 – and academic staff –1,643 – at the university hail from 130 countries. The university offers master programmes in nuclear engineering, computational science and engineering and and financial engineering. In connection with research and teaching activities, EPFL operates a nuclear reactor CROCUS, a Tokamak Fusion reactor, and a Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer. Students have the opportunity take part in research projects in the campus's 250 laboratories and various research groups throughout their course.
Researchers at EPFL created a ‘tribot’ that is capable of crawling and jumping like an inchworm. The tribot has a t-shaped structure with three legs, is two centimetres tall and weighs 4g. An ongoing project, created in 2014 as the National Centre of Competence in Research for Materials Design, has devoted £12.7 million to the discovery of new materials.
6. Technical University Munich, Germany
The Technical University Munich (TUM), is a research oriented university that educated the inventor of the compression ignition engine Rudolf Diesel. Renowned author Gustav Niemann also taught at the university. The Munich metropolitan area is said to have the highest density of car manufacturers in the world, so it is no wonder that automotive is one of the strongest fields at its department of mechanical engineering.
TUM has nearly 36,000 students, with 5000 enrolled for mechanical engineering and an overall 10% from international background. The institution comprises 13 faculties with 5,655 academic staff. Aside the Munich campus, TUM has sites in Freising-Weihenstephan and Garching, which is home to its mechanical engineering and other science faculties. The university has double degree agreements with more than 20 other establishments and maintains partnerships with around 170 universities worldwide, along with 320 Erasmus partnerships.
Research at the university has involved pilots using only brain activity to control an airplane’s movement. Researchers are also investigating a super-high multiple-speed concept for the electrified automotive powertrain design trends for purely electric vehicle power units, and looking at ways to address noise emission, efficiency and load capacity challenges.
7. Delft University of Technology, Netherlands
Delft University (TU Delft) has been providing technical education for more than 170 years and instructing mechanical engineers for 150 years as of 2014. The school has an entrepreneurial reputation and supports 70 start-up companies and 25 alumni companies.
The university has around 21,500 students and 1,573 academic staff. Its Bachelor's degree programmes are taught in Dutch. The university fosters partnerships with other leading universities around the globe to encourage and increase its students’ international experience and knowledge exchange. TU Delft is also a member of the IDEA league, a cohort of five leading engineering universities in Europe, and CESAER, the association of European schools of technology and engineering.
TU Delft researchers have collaborated with manufacturers and other institutions to convert the zero-emission Hyundai IX35 FCEV into a power plant on wheels, by successfully developing and installing a socket on a fuel cell car so it serves as an electricity outlet. Other research highlights at the university include: Nuna, its solar-powered race car; Glare, a fibre metal laminate used in Airbus A380 skin; and Flame, a humanoid robot with the ability to walk.
8. KU Leuven, Belgium
KU Leuven is the first, largest and highest-ranked university in Belgium. Founded in 1425, the institution is a research-based school and one of the most distinguished in Europe. KU Leuven joined the Erasmus student exchange programme when it launched and boasts a network of 300 partners. Underscoring its regard for research is its membership of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of 21 leading research-intensive universities and COIMBRA, a network of leading European universities.
The university has almost 52,000 students and 2,360 academic faculty staff. In addition to its main campus in Leuven, the university has smaller sites in 11 Belgian cities, including Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp, where most courses are taught in Dutch. Degree programmes at the university are research-based to ensure students develop a critical study approach and that its curriculum stays up to date.
Researchers at KU Leuven have developed VertiKUL2, a drone that combines an aircraft's speed and capacity for long flight with a quadcopter's vertical take-off and landing ability.
The school is conducting research into a drilling technology concept GEOTeCH, based on dry auger (drill) methods that enhance safety, require less expensive equipment and avoid ‘the environmental risks, complexity and costs of dealing with water supplies and contaminated waste’.
9. KTH, Sweden
KTH in Stcokholm is the largest university in Sweden is responsible for one-third of the country’s post-secondary engineering education and technical research. The public funded institution traditionally focused on applied and practical science to meet industrial demands. Most notably, the Nobel Prize awards originated from KTH.
Around 12,600 students study at the university taught by 1,472 academic staff. KTH has four further campuses in Sweden. The university conducts research and has academic strengths in E-science, IT and mobile communication, transport research and production engineering. KTH is a member of international networks such as CLUSTER and Top Industrial Managers for Europe (T.I.M.E).
Several research projects are breaking new ground for industry applications at the university:
- Researchers were able to remove chemically lignin from wood fibres to create a transparent material that can be mass produced, and possibly replace glass in solar cells and buildings;
- Research being conducted into how animal features, such as their tails, aid their movement could be applied to aircraft manufacture;
- Researchers have produced the world's first model car with a roof and battery made from wood-based carbon fibre.
10. RWTH Aachen, Germany
The RWTH Aachen was initially established to educate engineers for the mining industry. The largest technology-based university in Germany, national rankings regularly rate RWTH as the best place in Germany to mechanical engineering, with the institution having established around 1,400 start-ups. The faculty of mechanical engineering has produced several notable individuals including modern aerodynamics pioneer Theodore von Kármán.
Around 120 countries are represented among its 41,300 students of 8,000 of which are international. The university has almost 3,000 academic staff and around 7,000 students in its engineering faculty. Most courses are delivered in German, with some masters programmes taught in English. RWTH runs an Erasmus programme and participates in several university networks including the IDEA League, TU9, DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), T.I.M.E network, CESAER and UNITECH, to name a few.
Research conducted at RWTH often focuses on the current needs of industry, commerce, and the professions. At RWTH the first all-metal aircraft was developed, as was the diesel soot filter, the first particle accelerator and the first wind tunnel. The university is current in collaborating with Siemens Mobility to develop a new generation of rail vehicles.