The Republic of Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology has topped the first Times Higher Education ranking of the 100 best universities under the age of 50, leading a strong showing for East Asian universities.
The THE 100 Under 50 aims to show which nations are challenging the US and the UK as higher education powerhouses - and offers insights into which institutions may be future world leaders.
East Asian nations contribute six institutions to the top 20, with Pohang (known as Postech) at number one, followed by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) (third), the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (fifth), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (12th), Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (16th) and the City University of Hong Kong (18th).
Postech, founded just 26 years ago, has benefited from investment by Posco, one of the world’s largest steel companies - plus support from the Republic of Korea’s government during a time when the nation was completing its rapid transformation into an advanced industrial and technological economy.
The UK takes five places in the top 20: the University of York (eighth), Lancaster University (ninth), the University of East Anglia (10th), the University of Warwick (13th) and the University of Essex (20th).
The UK has more institutions in the 100 Under 50 than any other nation, with 20 representatives.
Writing in THE’s supplement to accompany the rankings, Jamil Salmi, former tertiary education coordinator at the World Bank, notes that the creation of new universities with global ambitions is an important trend in higher education, citing notable ventures in emerging economies such as Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.
He argues that it “may be easier to reach world-class status by establishing a new institution than by attempting to upgrade an existing one”.
Dr Salmi identifies the use of academic “diasporas” as key to the success of some newer East Asian institutions.
“As Postech and HKUST have shown, convincing large numbers of overseas scholars to return to their country of origin is an effective way of building up the academic strength of an institution rapidly,” he says.
Additional factors he identifies as keys to success in the ranking include the use of English as the main working language - a key factor in attracting leading foreign academics - and concentration on niche areas such as the sciences and engineering, enabling the rapid achievement of critical mass in research.
In terms of the UK’s leading young institutions, Laurie Taylor, emeritus professor of sociology at York, writes in the supplement that his university created a sense that it was “trying to do things differently” through its self-contained campus, college structure and emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration.
“Perhaps that most determined the huge loyalty of its staff and students,” he writes.
100 Under 50: Top 10
1. Pohang University of Science and Technology
2. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
3. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
4. University of California, Irvine
5. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
6. Université Pierre et Marie Curie
7. University of California, Santa Cruz
8. University of York
9. Lancaster University
10. University of East Anglia