The corners of the triangle are formed by the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and, to the south-east, Imperial College London and University College London. Some sources also include King's College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Occasionally other universities in London will also be included, such as the London Business School and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The institutions typically considered members of the triangle have among the highest research incomes of all British universities and collaborate closely through initiatives such as the G5, Global Medical Cluster (GMEC), MedCity, and SES.
Golden triangle universities possess some of the largest UK university financial endowments; endowment sizes range from UCL's £101 million (2016) to Oxford's £5.07 billion (including colleges) Further, each university receives millions of pounds in research fundings and other grants from the UK government, criticised by leaders of some other universities as disproportionate and not in the best interests of the country as a whole. In 2013/14, universities in Oxford, Cambridge and London received 46% of research funding in the UK, up from 42.6% a decade earlier.
Golden triangle universities generally do well on International rankings, which strongly reflect research performance. The LSE has, however, expressed concerns about a bias in rankings against smaller institutions and in favour of universities with large science, technology, engineering and mathematics programmes. Some global rankings, such as those produced by Times Higher Education (THE) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), correct for the sizes of institutions in calculating their results but others, such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), make no such adjustment.
The Golden Triangle universities generally do well on British university league tables, with Cambridge and Oxford consistently first and second, and Imperial and UCL ranked in the top ten by all compilers. The LSE, however, misses out on a top ten place in the Guardian University Guide, while King's College London fails to make the top ten except in the Times Higher Education employability survey of UK recruiters.
In The Sunday Times' 10-year (1998–2007) average ranking of British universities based on consistent league table performance; Cambridge, Oxford, LSE, Imperial and UCL (in order) claimed the top 5 positions whilst King's was placed joint 14th. With the exception of King's, the remaining members of the Golden Triangle have never left the top 15 in one of the three main domestic rankings between 2008 and 2017.