World beaters: but what makes these universities special?

World University Rankings 2008: find out who are the world's top 200.

October 9, 2008

HEATHER MUNROE-BLUM - PRINCIPAL
McGill University

First and foremost, I attribute McGill University's international standing to the quality of our people.

Our distinguished faculty have a long history of success in attracting competitive research funding. And in the global race for talent, smart people attract other smart people. We have recruited 830 professors since 2000 in strategic areas of strength, with nearly 60 per cent coming from outside Canada. McGill draws outstanding students from around the world.

The McGill community is unique in its make-up. We are Canada's most international university. Our 200,000 alumni live in 180 countries worldwide, and our students currently hail from 160 countries. Yet we are also strongly rooted in Quebec and Canada. McGill's location in multicultural Montreal, with its dynamic academic and private sector research community and a vibrant cultural sector, fosters creativity, the exchange of ideas and a wonderful quality of life.

McGill's long tradition of collaboration also positions us to make an outstanding contribution in our rapidly changing world - one in which the most exciting breakthroughs are being made across disciplines and where strong global networks are key to success.

ROBERT ZIMMER - PRESIDENT
University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is driven by a singular focus on the value of open, rigorous and intense inquiry.

Everything about the university that we recognise as distinctive flows from this:

- our belief that argumentation rather than deference is the route to clarity

- our insistence that arguments stand or fall on their merits

- our organisation that fosters rigorous analysis of complex problems from multiple perspectives

- our education that embeds learning in a culture of inquiry and analysis, thereby offering the most empowering education to students irrespective of the path they may ultimately take

- our commitment to attract the most original faculty and students, who can most benefit from, and contribute to, our environment

- our recognition that our contributions to society rest on the power of our ideas and the openness of our environment to developing and testing ideas.

IAN CHUBB - VICE-CHANCELLOR
Australian National University

"The reputation of a university depends not on the number of its students or the splendour of its buildings, but on the quality of its members and the nature of its contribution to learning ... ".

These words by the former Australian Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, John Dedman, reflect the spirit in which the Australian National University (ANU) was founded in 1946 and the spirit in which it continues to operate.

The ANU was established with a formidable responsibility. It was the only university in Australia formed by an Act of the Federal Parliament, and was founded to advance the cause of learning and research and take its place among the great universities of the world.

Maintaining our position in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings is one indicator that we can be proud that we have met the expectations of the founders.

But rankings only give a snapshot of the university. ANU staff create an environment of intellectual curiosity that is second to none in Australia. And, as they learn, each student contributes greatly to the achievements of the staff. At its best, it is an exhilarating partnership and what we aspire to achieve at ANU.

MALCOLM GRANT - PROVOST
University College London

University College London's strong performance is, as you would expect, a real source of satisfaction for our community. But league table success is not an end in itself.

Our pleasure derives from the fact that it reflects the strides we have taken in recent years, and I commend the efforts of our staff and students in delivering results that enable us to take our place alongside the world's most respected institutions.

But universities such as UCL that excel in basic research need also to think about how they can become even more relevant to the society around us. That is why we have launched a research strategy designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary interaction - within and beyond the university - and apply our collective strengths to thinking afresh about problems of global significance. Our first challenge, now well under way, is global health, drawing on the talent and expertise not only of medics and distinguished scientists, but also from disciplines such as architecture, engineering, law, economics, anthropology, geography and humanities.

Universities need to be focused and determined in delivering solutions to the challenges the world faces. Ambitious? Certainly, but I believe it is UCL's willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of academic endeavour that attracts the academics and students whose performance has led to the ranking we enjoy in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings today.

TAN CHORH CHUAN - PRESIDENT-DESIGNATE
National University of Singapore

As a leading global university centred in Asia, the National University of Singapore (NUS), offers education and research that is international, yet with unique Asian expertise and perspectives.

The NUS community is truly diverse and multidisciplinary. Our world-class faculty and researchers thrive on a culture of excellence that fosters an energising intellectual environment.

We are internationally known for our research strengths in engineering and computing, life sciences and biomedicine, social sciences, and natural sciences, among others.

At the NUS, we see each of our students as a unique individual. Our globally oriented education offers space, opportunities and challenges for them to discover their talents, pursue their passions and realise their potential.

There is a choice of more than 180 overseas universities for student exchange, entrepreneurial internships at NUS Overseas Colleges in the US, China, Sweden and India, and double-degree and joint-degree programmes with some of the world's top universities. Our partnerships and alliances stretch across the globe.

Drawing on our global and Asian connectivity that is grounded in academic rigour and research excellence, we offer an experience that is uniquely NUS.

MICHAEL SPENCE - VICE-CHANCELLOR
University of Sydney

The University of Sydney is Australia's oldest, and has a long-standing commitment to excellence.

We have built upon this tradition by ensuring that we have the most able staff and students from around the world, investing heavily both in attracting high-calibre researchers to Australia and the university, and in research training for young Australians.

In addition, we are at the conclusion of a ten-year programme of infrastructure development in a bid to make our central campus an internationally competitive environment for our staff and students.

A distinctive feature of the university is its remarkably broad range, with 16 faculties and 47,000 students. We undertake research and research-led teaching in the basic and medical sciences, humanities and social sciences, but also in applied health and professional disciplines, and in creative and performing arts. This breadth of activity means that our intellectual life is unusually rich, and that we can build strong links between theory and practice, and between the university and the broader community of which it is a part.

AMY GUTMANN - PRESIDENT
University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania boasts many firsts: the nation's first medical school; the first university teaching hospital; the world's first collegiate school of business; and the world's first electronic digital computer.

We cherish our non-sectarian and egalitarian mission and remain dedicated to founder Benjamin Franklin's vision of an education balancing the unfettered pursuit of knowledge with its practical application.

Today, Penn focuses on increasing access, integrating knowledge, and engaging locally and globally. Increasing access equalises opportunity, enriches educational experience and educates leaders. Integrating knowledge through joint appointments of faculty and the creation of collaborative centres expedites solutions to our most challenging problems. Engaging locally and globally, we advance the central values of democracy: life, liberty, opportunity and mutual respect.

STEPHEN J. TOOPE - VICE-CHANCELLOR
University of British Columbia

How is it that our university, only this year celebrating its first centenary, has achieved such a high global ranking?

The University of British Columbia (UBC) was already following a strategic decision to strengthen its research enterprise when, in the mid 1990s, Canada's national Government began a series of investments to amplify the country's voice in the global economy.

This infusion, often matched by provincial funds, enabled, but did not cause, the UBC's success. We earned that (through) our researchers (attracting) funding and enabling us to retain and attract scholars of international repute.

Research focus and commitment to interdisciplinary and internationally collaborative scholarship have contributed to our success. And, combined with our beautiful campuses, there is something of the North American idea of the West that helps to attract scholars to a place where institutional youth and vigour are deemed a clear advantage.

TOSHIO YOKOYAMA - VICE-PRESIDENT
University of Kyoto

I think that overseas visitors would agree with the description of the University of Kyoto as "the campus where eccentrics also thrive".

Ancient shrines and temples, traditional craft ateliers and high-tech companies flourish around our campus, and this co-existence in a small space seems to be the source of the university's creativity.

Founded at the turn of the 19th century, the university focused on research rather than the production of government officials. Those principles resonate today, and we are known for our commitment to academic freedom, dialogue and originality. The spirit behind this commitment has encouraged a distinct style of pioneering research. A long lineage of Kyoto scholars has rejoiced over what is unwritten in books, reconsidered their preconceptions and created new ideas and vocabularies, creating a uniquely language-conscious campus.

Kyoto University's culture is a part of the intellectual climate of Japan's ancient capital, which has experienced many ups and downs in the past 1,200 years. These have cultivated a wariness of passing fads and a keen sense of what is of enduring value.

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