The Top 5 Best British Universities for Sport and Academics

When it comes to universities that combine sporting excellence with academic quality, Britain is home to some of the best institutions in the world.

Whether you’re a keen rugby player who wants to fine-tune your skills whilst studying a prestigious course at a top-notch institution or a straight-A student who’s excited about playing a variety of recreational sports at university, then check out this article about the top 5 best British universities for sport and academics.

Here, we’ll look at a wide range of high-quality institutions, from the University of Edinburgh, with its exceptional water-based and turf pitches, to the University of Bath, with its state-of-the-art netball and Crossfit arena. 

It’s worth noting that if you’re looking for more advice on how to pick the best university for you, check out our articles on the Studying in the UK section of our A&J Education website. 

  • Best British Universities for Sport and Academics: University of Nottingham 

view across the water to University Park Campus Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is well-known for its courses in Pharmacology, Veterinary Medicine, and Biosciences (photo by Kiev. Victor/

Sports Facilities & Teams

When it comes to listing the best British universities for sport and academics, you’ve got to mention the University of Nottingham. 

This college is an enviable institution when it comes to sporting facilities and teams. Perhaps the best place to start is with the state-of-the-art David Ross Sports Village, a £40 million professional-quality asset that includes, among many other things: 

  • A large, top-quality fitness suite and gym 
  • A hydrotherapy pool for effective rehab
  • A top-quality outdoor 3G surface
  • A Finnish-style sauna for rest and recuperation 
  • A spin room for HIIT classes.

Elsewhere on campus, you’ll find the Sutton Bonington Sports Centre, situated in the nearby village right next to the university’s veterinary and biosciences campus. This centre includes a 30-station gym, a bouldering wall, several grass pitches, tennis courts, and a 3G turf pitch for nighttime practices. 

The university also has an excellent track record when it comes to high-performing sports teams, from the Mavericks ice hockey club and the Canoe Polo and Kayak teams to the cricket and rugby clubs.

Research Output & Top Courses 

Nottingham is well-known for its academic prowess, with an excellent international faculty ratio, employer reputation, and a consistently substantial research output. 

If you’re planning on applying to subjects like Physiotherapy, Pharmacology, Architecture, Biosciences, Law and Agriculture, then you’ll find that Nottingham has a reputation as one of the best institutions in the UK. 

Nottingham’s Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine courses, in particular, are consistently ranked as among the best in the country.

A Dream Day Out 

What about the city of Nottingham itself? Here’s a quick itinerary of activities you could get up to on a lazy Sunday after handing in your latest assignment: 

  • Morning: get some tasty breakfast at the Polish-American Warsaw Diner or the Hungry Pumpkin, with its filling English breakfasts, tasty paninis, and gorgeous Italian coffee. Take a morning stroll alongside a section of the River Trent to walk off those baked beans and eggs, at least until it’s time for lunch!
  • Afternoon: head over to Nottingham Castle or Wollaton Hall after lunch or brunch. The latter attraction is one of the finest examples of Tudor architecture in the country and includes an impressive Natural History Museum. 
  • Evening: if you’re looking for something vibey and a little bit different, head to the Nottingham institution that is Jam Café, where you’ll likely find a guest or resident DJ spinning decks while you sip on tropical drinks and have some hearty European-style food. Those fans of fish and chips should check out The Cod’s Scallops, an excellent chain of restaurants that serve exquisite battered fish and fries. If you’re visiting Wollaton Hall during the day, sit-in at the Wollaton Scallops location afterwards
  • University of Bath 

Sports Facilities & Teams 

The University of Bath consistently ranks among the best in the UK when it comes to courses like Sports Science, and it’s also one of the top British institutions for its performance teams and its sporting facilities. 

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the best facilities Bath has to offer: 

  • The Team Bath Sports Training Village (STV) is one of the most impressive student sporting facilities in the UK, with its gorgeous sprung-wood sports halls, functional bobsleigh track, Physiotherapy rehab centre, 120m indoor track, and the state-of-the-art Team Bath Arena (which regularly hosts Superleague netball games and top Crossfit events). 
  • The STV also has an exceptional Fitness Suite, with around 200 workout stations (so you’ll never be waiting around to use the barbell, pull up bar, or bench). 
  • If you’re interested in learning more about the subject of Sports Science, you’ll love the laboratory that’s onsite: the Sport Science Lab pushes elite athletes to the limits to test the boundaries of human endurance. This laboratory also includes a number of hypoxic chambers, which simulate high altitude conditions so that you can train under exceptional fatigue and greatly improve your overall aerobic capacity and tolerance to lactic acid. 

Teams-wise, the University of Bath has plenty of great student sports clubs, with over 1000 students competing in the nationwide (and highly prestigious) BUCS leagues every single week. 

Research Output & Top Courses 

Bath also has an excellent track record when it comes to aspects like student satisfaction and graduate prospects. In fact, in the 2021 National Student Survey, Bath ranked at over 86% in overall student satisfaction, making it among the best options in the UK when it comes to having an exciting and fulfilling university experience. 

In terms of courses and subjects, the University of Bath is best known for the following: 

  • Architecture and Criminology 
  • Psychology 
  • Sports Science 
  • Sociology 
  • Civil and Mechanical Engineering 

A Dream Day Out 

bikes resting outside the Old College Quad in Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh has over 60 student sports clubs, with many competing in the BUCS national leagues (photo by Jane Rix/

Sports Facilities & Teams 

The University of Edinburgh has one of the best British universities for sport and academics. It has the largest Sports & Exercise departments in the UK, with more than 60 student clubs on campus and an exceptional performance programme that has fostered the likes of Dame Katherine Grainger, Sir Chris Hoy, and the second most-capped Scottish rugby player Chris Paterson. 

When it comes to competing in the national leagues, the University of Edinburgh has many teams that play in BUCS National competition, with the Women’s and Men’s Rugby sides, Rowing Club, Hockey teams, and Lacrosse Club, in particular, doing well consistently on the national stage. 

Here are some of the best facilities that the University of Edinburgh has to offer: 

  • Peffermill Playing Fields and Sports Centre: the home of Scotland’s National Hockey Academy, Peffermill boasts an innovative water-based surface on pitch 1 that was used as the new sporting standard for Hockey at the Rio Olympics in 2016. 
  • You’ll also find several high-quality 5-a-side pitches at Peffermill, as well as several gorgeous 3G surfaces for fast-paced football, rugby, and lacrosse games.
  • Pleasance Sports Complex and Gym: this incredible facility is situated near Pleasance Courtyard and Cowgate, and is one of the best gyms in the UK, with a fixed-weight room, an atmospheric Vaults Gym, a dedicated cardiovascular facility, and an innovative, state-of-the-art Eleiko Training Gym for high-performance athletes. 
  • The Firbush Outdoor Centre: if you’re a fan of taking part in outdoor activities like winter hillwalking, climbing, paddleboarding, windsurfing, mountain biking, and kayaking, you’ll love this centre, which is located between the villages of Killin and Ardeonaig on the south shore of the breathtaking Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands. 

Research Output & Top Courses 

As well as being one of the best colleges in the UK when it comes to student sports, the University of Edinburgh is also well-known for its research output, quality of teaching, and particular commitment to the Arts and Humanities side of academic life. 

The Times Higher Education rankings have placed Edinburgh at number 6 in the UK for 2022, demonstrating the fact that this university is one of the best when it comes to factors like quality of teaching and Research Excellence Framework scores.

In terms of rankings, the best courses and subjects to take at Edinburgh include: 

A Dream Day Out 

Morning: if you’re feeling adventurous, head up Arthur’s Seat in the early morning to catch the sunrise over Calton Hill, Leith, Marchmont, and the Old Town, with panoramic views across the Firth of Forth to Fife on the other side of the water. You can eat at Kilimanjaro Coffee afterwards, a city institution that lies along Nicolson Street and which sells incredible Eggs Benedicts, hot breakfasts, sandwiches, coffee, and freshly squeezed juices. 

Afternoon: take a walking tour around the Old Town, checking in on the many closes and wynds that are hidden between pubs and behind gothic townhouses along the Royal Mile. If you’re feeling walked out from climbing Arthur’s Seat in the morning, you could head to a lunch haunt like The Elephant House, Black Medicine Coffee Company, the Burr and Co, or Saint Giles Café Bar for some tasty bites and tipples. 

Dinner: there are plenty of high-quality restaurants that use top-quality local products to make gorgeous dishes, from Kanpai sushi bar and The Bon Vivant to the Scandi-style Timberyard and The Scran & Scallie gastropub in Stockbridge. Head out to one of Edinburgh’s many iconic pubs or bars after dinner: The Royal Dick in Summerhall, Nauticus on Duke Street, The Hanging Bat on Lothian Road, and the Whiski Rooms on the Mound are some great options if you want to hang out in an atmospheric pub in the Old Town or down Leith way. 

  • University of Exeter 

Sports Facilities & Teams 

The University of Exeter is similar to its Edinburgh counterpart when it comes to combining academics and sports to great effect. Exeter has a number of excellent facilities, including: 

  • The Russell Seal Fitness Centre is a state-of-the-art gym that is located right next to the university’s Streatham Campus, with 200 workout stations, 100 top-notch pieces of cardio equipment, from rowers and ski ergs to proper, premium-quality treadmills, and a number of excellent Watt Bikes. 
  • If you’re keen to try rowing at Exeter, you’ll appreciate the university’s boathouse, as well as its 30+ strong fleet of high-quality shells and the club’s Erg Room (with its 9 Concept 2 rowers that will ensure you get a great workout in). 
  • St Luke’s Sports Centre is another top-quality sports facility that’s open to students at Exeter, with 30 workout stations, premium-standard cardiovascular machines and Concept 2 rowers, a lower sports hall gymnasium for netball, five-a-side football, and volleyball, and a heated indoor swimming pool for athletes who want to improve their aerobic capacity. 
  • The exceptional Cricket Centre on Streatham Campus has an 800 square metre playing surface for indoor training during the winter months, as well as professional-style bowling machines and a video analysis facility that allows players to improve their batting, bowling, and fielding techniques. 

The University of Exeter is well-known for its rugby, rowing, lacrosse, hockey, cricket, and tennis teams, and those who want to try something a bit different can have a go at trampolining, caving, korfball, or windsurfing and wakeboarding around Devon.

Research Output & Top Courses 

The University of Exeter is one of the best colleges in the UK, routinely ranking in the top 15-20 British institutions of higher education. Exeter is particularly well known for the following courses and subjects: 

A Dream Day Out 

Morning: enjoy an exquisite breakfast at Eat on the Green, with its glorious views across to Cathedral Green. You can also head to On The Waterfront if you’re looking to eat some lovely local produce while watching the mid-morning rowers on the River Exe

Afternoon: you can try to get a ticket to Sandy Park to see the town’s beloved Exeter Chiefs take on one of England’s professional, in-form teams in the Gallagher Premiership or one of the European rugby giants in the Heineken Champions Cup. If you’re not a fan of live sports, you can meander along the town’s Quay and discover some of the cafés, shops, and pubs that are hidden along the riverside streets. 

Evening: if you’re feeling balmy, head to one of the many gorgeous beer gardens scattered around the city, whether it’s the Mill on the Exe, The Farmers Union on Queen’s Terrace, or Double Locks, which lies on the banks of the Exeter Ship Canal.  

  • Best British Universities for Sport and Academics: Loughborough University 

Loughborough students competing in a cross country race

Loughborough University is home to the British Athletics National Performance Institute (photo by Gary Lynford Mitchell/

Sports Facilities & Teams 

The last (but definitely not least) on our list of the best British universities for sport and academics is Loughborough University. 

Loughborough itself is a small town that’s located around 20 miles south of Nottingham, in the East Midlands of England. In 2022, the college won “Sports University of the Year” in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide: perhaps even more impressively, the QS rankings have cited Loughborough as the “best university in the world for sports-related subjects” an astonishing 5 times, from 2017 through to 2021 (the results for 2022 haven’t come out yet). 

There’s no question, then, that Loughborough has to be on our list of the best British universities for developing and bolstering sporting excellence. Here’s a breakdown of some of the world-class facilities this university has to offer to prospective students: 

  • Powerbase and Holywell Fitness Centre Gyms: Loughborough has two exceptional gym facilities onsite. Powerbase, in particular, is designed to cater to all the needs of an elite-level performance athlete, with 12 Olympic lifting platforms, a cardio floor with Wattbikes (for measuring and bolstering both your aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels), a top-notch Physiotherapy Clinic, and a unique programme of gym classes that use trackers to measure your workout performance.
  • The Athletics Centre: if you’re an aspiring track or field star, you can’t look much further than Loughborough when it comes to developing your skills and chasing a successful sporting career. This centre is the hub for British Athletics and is home to the British Athletics National Performance Institute.
  • Rubber crumb, water-based, sand-dressed and grass pitches: whether you’re heading to Loughborough to play rugby, hockey football, lacrosse, American football, or ultimate frisbee, you’ll relish the opportunity to play on one of Loughborough’s many well-maintained and world-class pitch surfaces. 

Research Output & Top Courses 

Loughborough University also has an excellent reputation when it comes to certain academic subject areas, including: 

The university also ranks highly in other key areas, like the amount of money it invests in developing high-quality facilities, research intensity, and international faculty ratio. 

A Dream Day Out 

Morning: start the day off right with a coffee from Baobab Café, a Loughborough institution that’s right next door to Derby Square in the centre of town. You can grab some brunch here, or head to Goodliffes to treat yourself to a gorgeous full English breakfast just off of Church Gate.  

Afternoon: you could take a short trip out of town to go hiking around Beacon Hill Country Park, or book onto the steam train that runs between Loughborough and Leicester and enjoy some classic fish and chips or, if you’re really lucky, a few pints of real ale!

Evening: if you’re looking for something a bit different, head to Slidertown near Ashby Road for some drinks and laughs. Their happy hour, in particular, is a great deal: you can get two tasty cocktails for under £10 between 9 pm to 11 pm on any Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. You might also enjoy Champs Sports Bar, a student-friendly haunt where you can watch the match, play pool, and take on your mates on the Playstation. 

Best British Universities for Sport and Academics: Learn How to Prioritise Your Needs 

There are a number of British universities that combine academic excellence with sporting success, and this article only scratches the surface when it comes to the options that are available to you as a burgeoning sports star. 

It’s crucial to consider what your priorities are before you make your final choices on UCAS. Do you feel that developing your skills in a high-performance sporting environment is a non-negotiable for you when you head to university? Or would you rather focus on your studies and keep the sport as a more recreational and relaxing hobby on the side during your time at college? 

If you need some more in-depth advice and insight into the university admissions process, as well as on how to build and strengthen your application to the college of your dreams, get in touch with one of our specialist mentors at A&J Education to book a free consultation today. 

Leave a Reply