Dutch universities ‘have strongest global reputations’

THE analysis finds that UK and Canadian systems are also among most prestigious, while Australian universities are losing international stature

January 28, 2021
Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Source: Alamy

View the THE list of the world’s most international universities 2021

Universities in the Netherlands are the most highly regarded institutions by foreign academics, according to an analysis of Times Higher Education data.

The latest THE list of the world’s most international universities, published on 28 January, is led by institutions in Hong Kong, Switzerland, the UK and Singapore. But an analysis of the data behind one of the four metrics that makes up the ranking finds that while these countries are home to some prestigious institutions they do not necessarily have the strongest global reputations overall.

The international reputation metric draws on THE’s annual Academic Reputation Survey and is a measure of the proportion of votes that an institution receives from academics outside its home country.

A country-level analysis shows that the Netherlands has achieved the highest average score on this metric for the past three years (88.8 in 2021), with all six of its representatives in the international ranking receiving a score upwards of 83 out of 100. This year, the UK is second (87.3) and Canada is third (84).

The data also reveal some significant changes over time. Australian universities had the second highest international reputation in 2019 but are now fourth on this measure (with a score of 77.9), while the UK, the US, Japan and South Korea have all improved.

Of the 11 countries included in the analysis, Russia and China received the lowest share of votes from academics outside their countries (they scored 13.7 and 20.6 on this measure respectively). The analysis only included countries with at least three universities in the international ranking, so small systems such as Hong Kong and Singapore were excluded.

Universities had to meet a minimum threshold of votes to be included in the ranking (see methodology below), meaning that the research only analysed the most prestigious universities in each country.

Hans de Wit, distinguished fellow at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said that “the Netherlands is perceived as a system of excellent research universities” and each institution has different subject strengths, which means that they all have the potential to receive a high number of votes from academics in the relevant fields.

No Dutch universities feature in the top 50 of the THE World University Rankings, but 11 of its 13 research institutions are in the top 200 and the remaining two are in the top 250.

Professor de Wit added that geopolitical tensions between Australia and China could explain why the former country has declined on international reputation over the past two years. He suggested that the country’s approach to the pandemic could cause this score to drop further in the future. There have been concerns that the closure of Australia’s borders and subsequent decline in international student revenue could damage the country’s research system.

Tatiana Fumasoli, director of the Centre for Higher Education Studies at UCL, said that the Dutch higher education system is “renowned for offering high-quality, effective and efficient higher education”, while the top universities in the Netherlands, UK and Canada are all “very good research partners, not only because of the top researchers working there, but because they provide institutional capacity, efficiency and effectiveness in setting up research activities”.

Regarding Australia, she said that there is “the general perception of increasing isolation of the country”.

“Even the best university, if located in an insular environment, loses reputation in the short to medium term and research capacity in the long term,” she said.

On Japan and South Korea’s rise, Dr Fumasoli said that both countries have made it a priority to internationalise their systems, “although they favour a focused approach on their top universities, rather than across the entire higher education system”. “It seems this is starting to pay off,” she added.


The THE list of the world’s most international universities is based on data collected for the THE World University Rankings 2021. It is based on four equally weighted metrics:

  • Proportion of international staff
  • Proportion of international students
  • Proportion of international co-authorship (the share of a university’s total research journal publications between 2015 and 2019 that have at least one international co-author, normalised to account for an institution’s subject mix)
  • Proportion of international reputation (the share of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field).

Only institutions that were ranked in the 2021 World University Rankings and received at least 100 votes in the reputation survey were eligible for inclusion. To be included, universities also had to receive at least 50 domestic votes or at least 10 per cent of the available domestic votes.

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