Global young guns: East rises, UK falls

UK loses some gloss in second global ranking of youthful institutions, Jack Grove writes

June 20, 2013

South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology heads a list of the world’s top 100 universities under 50 years old for the second consecutive year, while the UK’s “plate-glass” universities have lost some ground.

Founded in 1986, Pohang – better known as Postech – retains its top spot in Times Higher Education’s second annual 100 Under 50 rankings, comfortably ahead of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in second place.

Postech’s national rival, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist), rises from fifth to third, while the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology drops one place to fourth.

Only one UK institution – the University of York, in seventh place – makes the top 10, compared with three last year. After York, the highest-placed UK institutions are the University of Warwick (13th), Lancaster University (14th) and the University of East Anglia (16th).

Overall, however, the UK still has the most representatives in THE’s list, with 18 in the top 100 institutions. This is down from 20 last year, although one of 2012’s entrants – Keele University – is now too old to be included in the ranking.

Other strong national systems include Australia (13 institutions), the US (eight), France (seven), Spain (six) and Taiwan (five).

But South Korea’s first and third place spots make it the “star” of this year’s list, said Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education Rankings.

“South Korea’s experience shows that it is possible for nations with sufficient political will to build in a relatively short time world-class universities that can compete with the traditional elites in the US and the UK,” he said.

A league of nations

Overall, 28 countries make the list, eight of them in the top 10.

Several French institutions established after the University of Paris was broken up in the wake of 1968’s social unrest feature in the top 100, including Pierre et Marie Curie (ninth), Paris-Sud (10th) and Paris Diderot-Paris 7 (17th).

Spain features prominently, with six top 100 institutions, in contrast to the World University Rankings, where it has none in the top 200.

While the UK’s strong performance is attributable largely to the success of universities formed in the 1960s, three former polytechnics given university status in 1992 make the top 100: Plymouth University (joint 53rd), the University of Hertfordshire (75th) and Liverpool John Moores University (joint 88th). The Open University enters the list in joint 99th place.

THE’s 100 Under 50 is based on the same 13 performance indicators covering teaching, research, interaction with industry and internationalisation that underpin THE’s World University Rankings, although academic reputation is less significant.

The ranking provides a fresh perspective on the concept of the “elite university”, which some believe better reflects past glories and reputation built up over centuries than current academic excellence.

“The traditional elite cannot afford to coast on centuries of history and tradition or rely too heavily on reputation,” Mr Baty said. “There is a new breed of dynamic universities emerging quickly and visibly to challenge for their crowns.”

Some younger institutions have proved that with the right focus and support, they can establish themselves as global forces in years rather than generations, Mr Baty added.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

Sitting pretty: the top 10 universities under 50 years old

  1. Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea
  2. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  3. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea
  4. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
  5. University of California, Irvine, US
  6. Maastricht University, Netherlands
  7. University of York, UK
  8. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  9. Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France
  10. Université Paris-Sud, France

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