15 Top Foreign Colleges Just As Great As America's Universities

The BBC reported Tuesday that six of the top 20 universities in the world are in the U.K. That list, released by QS Top Universities, ranks 100 international universities based on factors like academic reputation, employer reputation and citations per faculty. Below are the 15 top universities on the list outside of the U.S.

1. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its historic buildings are a popular tourist destination, and its libraries and museums hold early books and manuscripts and archaeological artifacts from around the world. It now consists of 31 colleges and six academic schools. It has a long history of contributing to scientific advancement. Some of the most important scientific discoveries in history were made by Cambridge alumni, including the articulation of the scientific method, discovery of the electron and discovery of the DNA double helix. Cambridge still has a reputation for research and maintains a research partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

2. University College London (UCL)

University College London, founded in 1826, was the first university institution to be founded in London and the first to admit both men and women from its start. The university was also founded to be strictly secular and maintains that tradition today. Unlike many other universities in the U.K., it does not have specific prayer rooms. UCL is also unique in that it has the highest number of full-time professors in the U.K. The professors are spread out among the school's eight faculties, including arts and humanities, law and engineering. Its historic buildings and location in London have made it a popular filming location. It has been featured in several movies including The Dark Knight and Inception.

3. Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a public research university specializing in science, engineering, medicine and business. It is one of the most selective colleges in the UK, with admission rates consistently below 20%. The college's tendency towards male-dominated fields makes its gender ratio uneven, at 64:36 overall and 5:1 in some engineering courses.

It is also one of the best universities for job prospects in the UK. In 2012, the average starting salary of a graduate from Imperial College was 28,800 GBP, the second highest of any college in the UK. 

4. University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with evidence of teaching going back to 1096. In 1167, Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris, and the University of Oxford grew rapidly. The university hosts recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious post-graduate scholarships in the world. It boasts the largest library system in the UK, with over 11 million volumes.

Oxford also has a number of museums and galleries that are open to the public. Its botanic garden is the oldest botanic garden in the UK and the third oldest scientific garden in the world. Academic dress (AKA robes) is required for examinations, disciplinary hearings, matriculation, and meetings with university officials.

5. Eth Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

Eth Zurich specializes in engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management. It was founded in 1854 by the Swiss Confederation and was intended to be a center for the scientific community. It is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the world and considered by many to be the best on the European main continent.

Like every other university in Switzerland, Eth Zurich is required to offer admission to any Swiss citizen who took the Matura, a high school exit exam. The coursework once accepted, however, is difficult. There are no mandatory examinations during the first year, but students have to take an exam covering all their first year courses in the summer after the second semester to be allowed to continue their studies. If a student fails the exam, he has to repeat his first year. Usually around 50% of students fail the exam on their first try. The college is currently working on a project titled "Science City" intended to turn the campus into a district based on sustainability.

6. University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is one of the 10 oldest universities in the U.K., and the fourth oldest in Scotland. The university played a huge role in establishing Edinburgh as a cultural and academic center during the Age of Enlightenment and helped give the city its nickname as the Athens of the north. Notable graduates include scientist Charles Darwin and philosopher David Hume.

Today, the university contains the College of Humanities and Social Science, the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and the College of Science and Engineering, all of which hold numerous faculties. Its historic buildings make it a popular tourist destination in Scotland. 

7. University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is a public research university founded in 1827 by royal charter. Originally known as King's College, it took on its present name when it declared itself a secular institution in 1850. It is notable for the discovery of insulin and birthplace of stem cell research, and its physics department built the first practical electron microscope in 1938. The university's library system is the fourth largest in North America and holds over 10 million bound volumes. It is also home to the first Canadian collegiate fraternity, Zeta Psi.

8. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Commonly known simply as Polytechnique, this school is well-known for its four year undergraduate/graduate Master's program. This engineering program has a famously difficult entrance exam, but prepares students for lucrative careers in government, finance or research. Admission to the school is very selective and requires at least two years of post-high school preparatory classes. About 400 French students and 100 foreign students are accepted each year.

9. King's College London

King's College was founded and given its namesake by King George IV in 1829 in response to the founding of the secular institution London University, later called University College London. It was given a royal charter in the same year, designating it as a Christian school. King's is the largest center for health care education in Europe and is a major center for biomedical research. King's student union is the oldest in both London and England.

10. McGill University

McGill University, located in downtown Montreal, Quebec, was ranked by Travel + Leisure as one of the 17 most beautiful college campuses in the world in 2012. It offers over 340 academic programs in 11 different faculties. 22% of its students are enrolled in the Faculty of Arts, McGill's largest program. McGill boasts notable alumni, including 12 Nobel Laureates and 134 Rhodes Scholars.

Today, McGill is one of three English-language universities in Quebec, and it does not require fluency in French to attend. The Faculty of Law, however, does require "passive bilinguality" in English and French. 

11. National University of Singapore (NUS)

Founded in 1905, NUS is the oldest institute of higher learning in Singapore. NUS has 16 faculties and schools, including a Music Conservatory. It also has seven international campuses in Shanghai, Beijing, Israel, India, and Stockholm, as well as divisions in the U.S. in Silicon Valley and Philadelphia. The Faculty of Engineering is the school's largest faculty, and it has ranked as one of the Top 10 engineering programs in the world in several reports.

12. University of Hong Kong

HKU was founded in 1911 during the British Colonial Era and today hosts 10 faculties. International students comprise about 12 percent of the student body. HKU Libraries is the oldest academic library in Hong Kong and holds over 2.3 million volumes. Instruction at HKU is conducted in English, and local students are required to take English and Chinese language courses. The university has an Exchange Buddy Program, and over 3,000 students have participated in exchange programs in 18 difference countries.

13. Australian National University

The Australian National University is the only university to have been created by the Parliament of Australia. ANU has over 10,000 trees on its campus, and it won an International Sustainable Campus Award in 2009. It was ranked the second greenest university campus in Australia in 2011.

ANU has seven colleges, each of which conducts both teaching and research. The colleges are: Arts and Social Sciences; Asia and the Pacific; Business and Economics; Engineering and Computer Science; Law; Medicine; Biology; and Environment and Physical and Mathematical Science.

14. Ecole normale supérieure, Paris

Also known as ENS, this college was conceived during the French Revolution to provide the Republic with a body of teachers trained in the principles of the Enlightenment. Today, it trains researchers, professors, high-level civil servants, and business and political leaders. ENS typically enrolls its students two or three years after high school, during which time the students have enrolled in preparatory classes. Students are paid a generous monthly salary in exchange for a commitment to serve France for 10 years, including the time of their studies.

15. University of Bristol

The University of Bristol has the distinction of establishing the first drama department in England in 1946. It also boasted Sir William Churchill as its Chancellor from 1929 to 1965. Today it is recognized as one of the best schools in England, especially in the fields of economics, finance and management. It has been criticized as being elitist, accepting 41% of its undergraduate students from private schools, despite the fact that only 7% of high school students attend non-state schools.

Students living on campus mostly get the privilege of living in dormitories built in the 18th and 19th centuries, often as manor houses for wealthy noblemen.