Stars in the east

This ranking celebrates the future Harvards and Berkeleys - but only genuine youngsters can keep their places, explains Phil Baty

June 20, 2013

There is an element of cruelty in the Times Higher Education 100 Under 50. Our annual list is ruthlessly sticking to its remit: we rank only institutions under 50 years old.

This means that for no reason other than a happenstance of history we say goodbye this year to the UK’s Keele University, Italy’s University of Trento and Germany’s Ruhr-Universität Bochum. They featured in the 2012 top 100, but because they were founded in 1962 and have this year reached the ripe old age of 51, they cannot be ranked in the 2013 table. This exclusion is a result of their age, not a reflection on their performance.

They won’t be the last. This year’s 100 Under 50 includes only institutions founded in 1963 or later. Next year, the Class of 1963 will be excluded, and so on.

We make no apology for this hard-line approach. The ranking represents a snapshot in time, and is necessarily more volatile than the established global benchmark provided by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

While those annual tables are stable and represent the definitive list of the world’s best research-led institutions according to a broad range of common indicators, irrespective of age, history or anything else, the 100 Under 50 is by its nature a more dynamic, changeable affair – a moveable feast, as it were.

Although the World University Rankings are dominated by older (and usually richer) institutions that have had centuries to accumulate wealth and to build deep and rich alumni networks to help bolster their reputations (and fill their coffers), the 100 Under 50 is designed to highlight those universities that have joined the ranks of the world’s finest thanks to rapid development over a relatively short time. It also picks out those that have the greatest potential – the “likely future Harvards and Berkeleys”, as Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, has put it.

Settling on a yardstick for “young” institutions was tough but extensive consultation with our expert advisory group suggested that 50 years was about right: long enough to develop the sophisticated infrastructure and concentrations of talent needed to deliver world-class teaching and research but short enough to be considered youthful. The 50-year benchmark also captures something of the golden age of higher education expansion in the 1960s, particularly seen in the UK and Australia.

Deciding how to determine foundation dates was also a headache when even the newest institutions can often trace their origins to the more distant past. But it was agreed that we would start the clock the year that institutions were founded, if purpose-built as universities, or when they attained degree-awarding powers or formal university status if they evolved from another type of body. In terms of mergers, de‑mergers and spin-off institutions, we have had to use our editorial judgement, which is open to debate and which we welcome you to challenge.

But such minutiae should not detract from the exciting purpose of the 100 Under 50: it is a celebration and a showcase of a new breed of globally competitive institutions, neglected by traditional rankings, that has the potential to challenge the established order.

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