The world’s best small universities 2022
Does size matter? Apparently not, according to the students and faculty at the world’s outstanding small universities
- Student life
While many prospective students will crave large campuses and the anonymity of a bustling student body, others will be attracted to the experience that a smaller institution can offer.
Times Higher Education has once again revealed the best small universities across the globe – from the US, China and South Korea to India, Japan and France.
To be eligible for the ranking, universities must appear in THE’s World University Rankings 2022, teach more than four subjects, and have fewer than 5,000 students.
The average number of students at institutions in the 2022 best small universities ranking is 3,317. In contrast, the average number of students at an institution in THE’s main global ranking is 25,000.
Students at a dozen of the smaller universities gave us an insight into their student life (see below), and it seems that this positive view of smaller schools is echoed by students from Paris to South Korea.
Top 20 small universities in the world 2022
1. California Institute of Technology (Caltech), United States
Despite its tiny size, Caltech’s credentials are impressive. Not only has it managed to defend its position as the best small university in the world for another year, but it also places joint second in the overall World University Rankings. Not bad for an institution with just over 2,200 students.
Caltech offers a range of science and technology programmes taught by world-renowned scholars, as well as high-end facilities such as its Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Attending Caltech provides the opportunity to join a group of award-winning alumni that includes 39 Nobel laureates.
Caltech: ‘uniquely difficult but a wonderful place to study’
2. Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), China
SUSTech is a relatively young institution, having been established in 2011.
Yet in just over a decade, it has become an important centre for science and technology research. Students are also able to participate in research projects.
3. Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology was established in 2009, making it one of the youngest universities in this table.
It may be a small institution, but it has bold ambitions to be ranked among the top 10 science and technology universities by 2030.
All the courses are taught in English and there is a strong push towards internationalisation of the student body and academic staff.
4. Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), South Korea
POSTECH was established in 1986 to provide advanced education for prospective engineers.
The university also offers courses and opportunities for students to become entrepreneurs, such as taking part in clubs, start-up prep groups, training on patents and leaves of absence to create a new venture.
5. Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy
Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa is the smallest university on this list, with fewer than 600 students.
It was founded in 1810 and has seen many eminent figures pass through it, including poet Giosue Carducci, Nobel prizewinner in physics Carlo Rubbia, physicist Enrico Fermi, former Italian prime minister Carlo Ciampi and mathematician Alessio Figalli.
The university focuses on teaching in the humanities, the sciences and the political and social sciences.
A small university steeped in history and culture
6. Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa, Italy
Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies is one of only four institutions in this list with fewer than 1,000 students.
The university can count some of Italy’s finest scientific and political minds among its alumni, including former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato and neuroscientist Giuliano Tononi.
To attend the university, students must achieve top marks in their entrance exam and demonstrate proficiency in two languages. On achieving that, and gaining entry, students can attend the university free.
7. Brighton and Sussex Medical School, United Kingdom
With fewer than 1,000 students, Brighton and Sussex Medical School is one of the smallest universities on this list.
The institution was formed in 2003 through a partnership between the universities of Sussex and Brighton and surrounding NHS organisations to train future medical professionals.
8. Alfaisal University, Saudi Arabia
Alfaisal University is located in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.
Because of the university’s small size, students benefit from an 11:1 student-to-staff ratio and compact teaching groups.
The university offers a wide range of postgraduate and undergraduate programmes across five subject areas (business, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science).
9. École des Ponts ParisTech, France
École des Ponts ParisTech is one of the oldest and most prestigious grandes écoles (a group of prestigious universities in France dedicated to engineering and science research).
Upon its founding, the university’s primary focus was to train engineers, but now it has expanded to offer programmes in computer science, mathematics, finance, economics, urban studies and environment, and transport engineering.
10. University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
The University of Luxembourg is one of the largest universities on this list, with a student population of 4,890.
It is fairly young, having been established only in 2003. The university prides itself on its multilingual and international outlook, with lectures conducted in French, German and English. It is also compulsory for bachelor’s students to undertake a semester abroad.
My experience as an international student at the University of Luxembourg
11. Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT, Finland
Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT is the only Finnish university to focus on teaching and research in engineering and technology. The university is particularly well known in the fields of renewable technology, combatting climate change and finding sustainable engineering solutions.
Some 15 per cent of the student population are international, representing 94 nationalities.
12. Reykjavík University, Iceland
Reykjavík University might be among the best small universities in the world, but it is the largest private university in Iceland.
All undergraduate degrees are taught in Icelandic; however, postgraduate and PhD programmes are taught in English. Teachers and other university staff have a good knowledge of English and will be able to help those who do not have a strong grasp of the native language.
The university consists of four academic schools: law, business, computer science, and science and engineering.
13. Indian Institute of Science, India
The Indian Institute of Science was founded in 1909 and is located in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state.
It is made up of six main departments: biological sciences, chemical sciences, electrical sciences, interdisciplinary research, mechanical sciences, and physical and mathematical sciences.
14. École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
This high-achieving small university is located in the beautiful city of Lyon.
École Normale Supérieure de Lyon maintains its high student grades in part by recruiting its students from preparatory schools around France. Other students may attend the university, but only if they pass the rigorous entrance exams.
15. Università della Svizzera Italiana, Switzerland
Università della Svizzera Italiana was established in 1995 with campuses in Lugano, Mendrisio and Bellinzona. It is the only university in Switzerland whose official language is Italian.
The university has a 1:8 teacher-to-student ratio. There is also a student newspaper called L’universo.
16. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
There are fewer than 4,000 students at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and they are spread over several campuses around Sweden. The largest campus is in Uppsala, with other campuses dotted across the country.
The university offers far more than just courses in the agricultural sciences. Its remit covers architecture, engineering and economics, among others.
A strong emphasis is placed on research, and the institution produces about 1,500 papers a year.
Why is going to a small university beneficial?
17. IMT Atlantique, France
IMT Atlantique was established in 2017 through the merger of two smaller institutions. It is one of France’s grandes écoles and has three campuses: in Brest, Nantes and Rennes.
18. Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei Darussalam
Despite having less than 4,000 students, Universiti Brunei Darussalam is the country’s largest university in terms of student numbers and subjects offered.
It was established in 1985 and offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees across nine faculties and seven research institutes.
19. Harokopio University, Greece
Harokopio University has three schools: environment, geography and applied economics; health science and education; and digital technology, offering both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
Based in Athens, the university is near several important sites such as the Acropolis Museum, Thissio, the Panathenaic Stadium, Keramikos and the Benaki Museum.
20. University of Klagenfurt, Austria
The University of Klagenfurt is the largest research and higher education institute in the state of Carinthia, Austria. It is just 30km from the Slovenian border and 60km from the Italian border and supports bilingualism and multilingualism.
The university was founded in 1970 and relaunched in 1993.
Best small universities 2022
Editors note: As part of our THE statement on Ukraine published on 2 March 2022, Russian universities have been given less prominence in our rankings. Russian and Belarusian universities that met the criteria for this ranking are not displayed in the table above.