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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

  • Rankings
  • Student life
August 3 2022
Small world


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.

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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

Small university rank 2022 Small university rank 2021  World University Rank 2022  University Country/region Total number of students
1 1  =2  California Institute of Technology US        2,233
2 =9  =162  Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) China        4,245
3 5  =178  Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) South Korea        3,657
4 3  =185  Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) South Korea        3,183
5 6  =197  Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Italy           581
6 4  201–250  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Italy           706
7 15  201–250  Brighton and Sussex Medical School UK           977
8 =9  201–250  Alfaisal University Saudi Arabia        2,724
9 =11  251–300  École des Ponts ParisTech France        2,096
10 8  251–300  University of Luxembourg Luxembourg        4,890
11 NR  251–300  Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT Finland        4,333
12 =18  301–350  Reykjavík University Iceland        2,574
13 =18  301–350  Indian Institute of Science India        4,199
14 =11  301–350  École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France        2,272
15 14  301–350  Università della Svizzera Italiana Switzerland        3,097
16 20  301–350  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden        3,906
17 21  351–400  IMT Atlantique France        1,546
18 22  351–400  Universiti Brunei Darussalam Brunei Darussalam        3,786
19 NR  351–400  Harokopio University Greece        3,697
20 16  351–400  University of Klagenfurt Austria        3,173
21 NR  401–500  University of Vaasa Finland        3,690
22 =26  401–500  University of Alaska Fairbanks US        3,125
23 =35  401–500  SOAS University of London UK        4,633
24 13  401–500  Jacobs University Germany        1,571
25 NR  401–500  École des Mines de Saint-Étienne France        1,039
26 =26  401–500  L’institut Agro France        2,221
27 =26  401–500  Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Italy        4,195
28 25  401–500  Indian Institute of Technology Indore India        1,832
29 32  401–500  SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) UK        1,478
30 17  501–600  Cyprus University of Technology Cyprus        3,153
31 33  501–600  Centrale Nantes France        1,777
32 34  501–600  Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology South Korea        1,884
=33 30  501–600  Clark University US        3,020
=33 37  501–600  Bond University Australia        3,386
35 NR  501–600  Alagappa University India        4,548
=36 =35  501–600  Sabancı University Turkey        3,700
=36 38  501–600  Lincoln University New Zealand        2,633
38 24  501–600  Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) Japan        3,027
39 NR  601–800  Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar India        1,590
40 31  601–800  University of Neuchâtel Switzerland        4,099
41 48  601–800  University of Nicosia Cyprus        4,662
42 42  601–800  Mahatma Gandhi University India        1,643
43 43  801–1000  Universitat Internacional de Catalunya Spain        4,881
44 NR  801–1000  Clarkson University US        4,466
45 50  801–1000  Lahore University of Management Sciences Pakistan        4,228
46 NR  801–1000  Zewail City of Science and Technology Egypt           958
47 45  801–1000  American University of Sharjah United Arab Emirates        4,476
48 44  801–1000  Kurume University Japan        4,997
49 46  801–1000  University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) Canada        2,918
=50 49  801–1000  Bharathiar University India        3,698
=50 NR  801–1000  University of Maragheh Iran        3,085
52 NR  801–1000  St Francis Xavier University Canada        4,387
53 51  1001–1200  Tallinn University Estonia        4,062
54 52  1001–1200  Acharya Nagarjuna University India        4,858
55 =53  1001–1200  Tezpur University India        3,985
56 =53  1001–1200  Polytechnic University of Cartagena Spain        4,541
57 47  1001–1200  Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal India        1,581
58 58  1201+  University of Yamanashi Japan        4,679
59 NR  1201+  Cochin University of Science and Technology India        3,545
61 NR  1201+  Damghan University Iran        4,706
62 55  1201+  Nagoya City University Japan        4,471
=63 =56  1201+  University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague Prague        3,842
=63 NR  1201+  Ming Chi University of Technology Taiwan        4,496
65 60  1201+  Toyohashi University of Technology (TUT) Japan        2,015
66 59  1201+  Kochi University of Technology Japan        2,579
67 61  1201+  Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology Japan        2,637
68 NR  1201+  TOBB University of Economics and Technology Turkey        4,777
69 63  1201+  Ochanomizu University Japan        2,778
70 62  1201+  Tzu Chi University Taiwan        3,492
=71 64  1201+  University of Shizuoka Japan        3,100
=71 NR  1201+  Universidade Federal de Ciências da Saúde de Porto Alegre (UFCSPA) Brazil        4,996
73 65  1201+  Kyoto Institute of Technology Japan        3,970
74 67  1201+  Akita University Japan        4,970
75 66  1201+  Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies Latvia        3,845
76 68  1201+  Utsunomiya University Japan        4,829


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.

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