THE 100 Under 50: All hail the new breed

Phil Baty celebrates the universities that have reached the top of the global academy in decades, not centuries

May 31, 2012

Welcome to the inaugural Times Higher Education 100 Under 50.

The basis of the report, as the name suggests, is simple: it is a list of 100 universities that are less than 50 years old, ranked by their performance across 13 indicators.

It is clear that the vast majority of the world's best research-led universities share a core element in common: they are old. Often enjoying many centuries of tradition and experience, the likes of the universities of Oxford (which can trace its origins to 1096), Harvard (1636) and Tokyo (1877) have become bastions of world-class scholarship.

In addition to rich cultures, such universities can also draw on many years' worth of endowment income, and have been able to cultivate deep and enduring networks of loyal and successful alumni ambassadors.

Such ingredients can make a huge difference in the quest for global excellence, and are clearly reflected in the results of Times Higher Education's annual World University Rankings.

In these pages, Jamil Salmi, the former head of tertiary education at the World Bank, writes of the notion that like a good wine, "academic excellence traditionally has required careful care and a long maturation period". He goes on to say that this notion is being challenged.

"The decision of several middle- and high-income countries to step up investment in support of their elite universities under various 'excellence initiatives' shows their determination to attain drastic short-term improvement," he writes.

Indeed, several institutions have recently been created, notably in Saudi Arabia, with the express purpose of rapidly joining the "world-class" elite.

So this report is not about the traditional elites: it is about a new breed of global universities - those that have managed to join the world's top table in just decades, not centuries, and others showing great promise, institutions that could reach the top, given time.

For this reason, the established methodology of the World University Rankings has been modified to reflect the different profile of younger universities. The 100 Under 50 uses the same 13 performance indicators grouped into the same five broad categories. But the weighting given to the rankings' two subjective indicators of academic reputation - closely associated with heritage - has been significantly reduced.

One of the most exciting things about this list is its sheer diversity: 30 countries are represented in the top 100. It offers a tantalising insight into the shifting balance of power and hints at which nations may be best poised to challenge the traditional Anglo-American dominance of global higher education.

As economics professor Andrew Oswald says in these pages: "These results are interesting because they give us a glimpse of the likely future Harvards and Berkeleys...once upon a time both Harvard and Berkeley were derided as Nowheresville."

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