Learning curve: Here are Europe's best colleges

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A cradle of learning, culture and civilization, Europe is home to some of the world's oldest and most prestigious universities.

Here CNBC takes a look at Europe's top 10 higher education institutions, according to the QS World University Rankings for 2014-2015. The rankings were first compiled in 2004 and assess quality of teaching, research, employability and international outlook.

Over 3,000 institutions across the world were assessed and more than 800 ranked.

By Anmar Frangoul, Special to CNBC.com

(10) University of Bristol, England

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Established in 1909 after being granted a royal charter by King Edward VII, the University of Bristol is home to more than 15,000 undergraduates studying everything from veterinary science to history, law and English literature.

Income for the university in 2013-2014 was £485.5 million, with 27 percent of this total – £131.5 million – coming from research grants and contracts. Just over £104 million came from grants from funding bodies.

The university is ranked 29th in the world by QS.

(9) Ecole Normale Superieure, France

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Based in Paris, the Ecole Normale Superieure was founded in 1794 during the French Revolution.

Research is a key part of the university, with 36 research units, over 100 research teams and more than 850,000 books housed across 12 libraries.

Louis Pasteur, vaccine pioneer and one of the world's most influential chemists and microbiologists, was made director of scientific studies at the university in 1857.

(7) Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland

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Established in 1969, EPFL is one of the world's leading higher education institutions and specializes in engineering. It is located in a French-speaking part of Switzerland. Globally, EPFL was ranked as the 17th best university in the world, along with The University of Edinburgh.

Like its sister institution, ETH Zurich, EPFL is a hub of innovation and growth. 192 start-ups were spun out from the university between 2000 and 2014 and the university filed 99 "priority patents" last year.

(7) The University of Edinburgh, Scotland

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Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the oldest in the English-speaking world.

In 1996, researchers at the university's Roslin Institute made history – and headlines – when they successfully cloned the world's first mammal from an adult cell, Dolly the sheep.

The university is ranked joint 17th in the world with the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

(6) King's College London, England

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Established in 1829 by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington, King's College London is a teaching and research powerhouse. Currently home to around 26,000 students, King's receives £164 million in research income annually.

King's alumni include Archibishop Desmond Tutu and leading theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who won a Nobel Prize in 2013 for his working in theoretical physics and the eponymous Higgs-Boson particle.

(5) Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland

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One of the world's leading universities for the study of technology and natural sciences, more than 18,600 students studied at ETH Zurich in 2014. It is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, the other being in Lausanne, and is based in a German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Great minds have studied and worked at ETH Zurich, including Albert Einstein, who was a student and then professor of theoretical physics there. Europe's most powerful supercomputer is based at Lugano's Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, run by ETH Zurich.

Innovation is at the institution's heart. Since 1996 over 300 spin-off companies have emerged from the university.

(3) University College London (UCL), England

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Established in 1826, University College London is one the world's leading multi-faculty universities.

It was London's first university and 29 UCL students or academics have been awarded Nobel Prizes.

Alumni include inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, DNA pioneer Francis Crick and multi-million selling band Coldplay.

UCL came joint fifth in the overall rankings, along with the University of Oxford.

(3) University of Oxford, England

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Placed joint fifth with UCL in the global rankings, Oxford's dreaming spires have beguiled students and tourists for centuries. Teaching has taken place in the city since 1096, thirty years after William the Conqueror landed on English shores from France.

The home of more than 22,000 students from over 140 countries, Oxford remains one of the world's top educational institutions, renowned for its teaching and research. Resources are impressive with the university's Bodleian Libraries group housing more than 11 million printed works.

(1) Imperial College London, England

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Focused on science, engineering and medicine, Imperial was founded in 1907 and currently has more than 14,000 students and 7,000 staff.

Based near Hyde Park in London's exclusive South Kensington district, Imperial's students come from over 125 countries.

The university has a global reputation for academic rigour and excellence and has spawned 14 Nobel Laureates and two Fields Medalists.

Imperial's 2013-2014 income from research grants, research contracts and the Higher Education Funding Council for England was £449 million ($697 million).

Together with the University of Cambridge, Imperial was ranked as the joint second best university in the world by QS.

(1) University of Cambridge, England

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Founded in the thirteenth century, the University of Cambridge is one of the world's most famous, oldest and leading educational institutions.

The alma mater of luminaries such as poet John Milton, biologist Charles Darwin and actress Emma Thompson, Cambridge is praised by QS for its "world-class" original research.

Like English rival Oxford University, Cambridge is made up of tens of smaller component colleges to which prospective students apply.

Trinity, one of Cambridge's most prestigious colleges, has produced 32 Nobel Prize Winners on its own.

QS rates Cambridge as the joint second best university in the world behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S.