Which universities could challenge the elite by 2030?

Study identifies institutions that have an opportunity to become globally renowned within the next decade

August 11, 2016
Participants fight during Fischerstechen fishermen joust competition
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Rocking the establishment boat: an ambitious, fast-rising group of universities and a group labelled ‘upstream fighters’ are making dramatic gains in the league tables

Rapidly improving universities that are seeking to capitalise on global trends in higher education are set to shake up the university “establishment” in the next decade and beyond, according to a report.

The study from higher education strategy consulting firm Firetail identifies a “class of 2030”, which consists of a new generation of “challenger” universities that are quickly rising in world rankings and have an opportunity to become globally renowned in the next 10 to 20 years.

These institutions are characterised by their balance of long-term vision with short-term execution of strategy; clear view of the changing world and their role in it; robust plan to generate the resources, people and culture needed to be successful; focus on innovation including harnessing new partnerships and institutional models; and outward-looking and impact-focused nature, according to the report Class of 2030: Which Universities Will Rise – And How Will They Do It?

The study identified 346 institutions as potential candidates for the class of 2030, but stressed that only those universities that sustain their improvement over the next 15 years will become globally influential.

The list comprises universities that are ranked between 500th and 1,500th place in the University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP), which judges institutions on their research quality, and that have improved consistently in the list between 2010-11 and 2015-16. 

It also considers the environment in which a university is located, taking into account the number of foreign students as a proportion of local students in the country; the proportion of gross domestic product spent on research and development; and the country’s university enrolment rate.

An elite group of 20 universities that rose more than 250 places in the URAP rankings since 2010-11 and are located in strong higher education ecosystems were labelled as “rising stars” (see table, below). A further 26 universities that improved by the same amount but are situated in weak higher education ecosystems were named “upstream fighters”. These included Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam University, South Africa’s University of Johannesburg and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.

Most of the universities in the list do not currently make the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of the top 800 institutions across the globe. THE's ranking uses various other measures in addition to research quality.

Andy Martin, director of Firetail, said that while “the top few hundred ranks [in the URAP] are pretty stable”, there is much more volatility in the mid-ranked positions below the top 500. Within this range he identified Australia, China, Poland and Turkey as key countries that are moving up, while the US, Japan, Canada and the UK are generally losing ground.

“It’ll come as no surprise that Chinese universities are making the most dramatic gains” in the middle of the ranking, he told THE. “Their average position has gained from around 1,300 to nearer 950.” 

He said that the most interesting characteristic is that these universities are deliberately planning for global success, adding that they are “globally aware and outward-looking, but take into account their local and social context”.

“For now, they will not replace elite universities or make them less relevant, but they are quickly improving and if traditional players don’t respond they will keep on rising straight to the top,” he added.

Mr Martin said that the main challenge faced by rising universities in strong higher education climates will be “finding a point of difference and a distinct place in the landscape” while those with a less established higher education and research and development environment will rely heavily on government policy and investment.


Class of 2030's rising stars

Institution Country THE 2015-16 World University Rank 
Western Sydney University Australia 401-500
Baylor University US Not ranked
Kangwon National University South Korea Not ranked
University of Lubeck Germany Not ranked
Ritsumeikan University Japan Not ranked
University of Seoul South Korea 601-800
Charles Darwin University Australia 251-300
Lappeenranta University of Technology Finland 501-600
Saitama Medical University Japan Not ranked
Jacobs University Bremen Germany Not ranked
Hofstra University US Not ranked
Louisiana Tech University US Not ranked
Boise State University US Not ranked
California State University Fresno US Not ranked
California Polytechnic State University US Not ranked
Nova Southeastern University US Not ranked
Fairfield University US Not ranked
Anglia Ruskin University UK Not ranked
Lamar University US Not ranked
Federation University Australia Australia Not ranked

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Reader's comments (1)

Hopefully Western Sydney University will be the top 10 universities in Australia at least in the near future.


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