Researchers in universities set up in the past 50 years appear to be having greater success in collaborating with academics based in other countries, a Times Higher Education data analysis suggests.
A comparison of institutions in this year’s THE Young University Rankings with older universities shows that those established in recent decades are more likely to score highly on international co-authorship. And institutions set up since 2000 appear to have the biggest lead when it comes to researchers teaming up across borders, the analysis suggests.
The findings come alongside figures that shine a light on the subject focus of younger universities, which suggest that such institutions, especially in Asia, are more likely to focus on technological subjects such as computer science that are driving innovation in many economies.
Caroline Wagner, Milton and Roslyn Wolf chair of international affairs at Ohio State University, said that this was also likely to be a reason why they appear to be building closer international links.
“New universities can focus on technological studies because the knowledge is easily transferrable, derivative, and empirical,” she said.
For the same reasons, “it is easier to engage in international collaboration in technical and scientific areas because the work transcends social and cultural contexts (to a large extent), uses a ‘common language’, can be empirically validated, and raises the reputation and attention gained by all collaborating parties”.
“Social sciences and humanities are more difficult to collaborate in because of the need to agree on essential theoretical underpinnings that often do not translate well across cultures,” Professor Wagner added.
However, outside Asia, another characteristic of some younger universities that could be helping them connect better internationally is their approach to interdisciplinary work.
Ossi Naukkarinen, vice-president for research at Finland’s Aalto University, ranked joint 18th in this year’s Young ranking, said that working across disciplinary boundaries helped to “open up your mind to other ways of thinking and practices” including collaborating with academics from abroad.
Aalto, which was established in 2010 by merging three Helsinki-based institutions focusing on technology, economics and art and design, has since worked to integrate research and teaching in different disciplines.
This has also attracted staff and students from outside Finland who are keen on its approach, leading to Aalto learning “international, multicultural ways of doing things” which has also “naturally” helped with establishing overseas links too, Professor Naukkarinen said.
The Young University Rankings this year have again been topped by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, followed by Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in second position and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University in third place.
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