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The world’s best small universities 2023

Does size matter? Apparently not, according to the students and faculty at the world’s outstanding small universities

  • Rankings
  • Student life
August 9 2023
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 2023, teach more than four subjects, and have fewer than 5,000 students.

The average number of students at institutions in the 2023 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.

Top 20 small universities in the world 2023

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’s also sixth 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. 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.

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 small 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. Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy

Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa is the smallest university on this list, with under 700 students and the only university with fewer than 1,000 students. 

It was founded in 1810 and has seen many eminent figures pass through it, including poet Giosuè 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

5. Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa, Italy

Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies counts 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Bond University, Australia

Bond University is a small university located in Gold Coast, Australia. 

The university offers housing for international and domestic students, and the student organisation organises activities and clubs for the student body. 

9. Brighton and Sussex Medical School, United Kingdom

With just over 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

Alfaisal offers a wide range of postgraduate and undergraduate programmes across five subject areas (business, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science).

12. 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. Students from other countries may attend the university, but only if they pass the rigorous entrance exams.

13. Abu Dhabi University, Abu Dhabi

A new entry on this year’s list, Abu Dhabi University is the largest private university in Abu Dhabi. 

It has three campuses – Khalifa City, Al Ain and Dubai – and six colleges: arts and sciences, business, engineering, health sciences, law and academic programmes for military colleges.

14. Reykjavík University, Iceland

Reykjavík University might be among the world’s best small universities, 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.

15. 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. 

16. Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei

Despite having fewer 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. 

17. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden

There are just over 4,000 students at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and they are spread over several campuses around Sweden, with the largest campus in Uppsala.

The university offers far more than just courses in the agricultural sciences. Its remit also incudes architecture, engineering and economics.

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?

18. University of Vaasa, Finland

The University of Vaasa is one of the biggest schools in Finland, with just under 4,000 students. 

Every academic year the university welcomes roughly 200 international students from across the globe as part of its academic exchange programme.

19. Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences, India

Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences is a private research-oriented university that was established in 2009. 

The university is known for its green status, producing twice the amount of electricity that it consumes. The campus itself is surrounded by pine and deodar forests. The buildings are energy-efficient and there are more than 100 modern laboratories, as well as a library.

20. 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. 

Best small universities 2023

Small university rank 2023 Small university rank 2022  World University Rank 2023  University  Country/region   Number of students 
1 1  6  California Institute of Technology  United States         2,237
2 4  =163  Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)  South Korea         3,260
3 3  174  Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)  South Korea         3,896
4 5  =183  Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa  Italy            629
5 6  201–250  Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa  Italy         1,100
6 15  201–250  Università della Svizzera Italiana  Switzerland         3,266
7 9  251–300  École des Ponts ParisTech  France         1,959
8 =33  251–300  Bond University  Australia         3,214
9 7  251–300  Brighton and Sussex Medical School  United Kingdom         1,013
10 13  251–300  Indian Institute of Science  India         3,990
11 8  301–350  Alfaisal University  Saudi Arabia         2,851
12 14  301–350  École Normale Supérieure de Lyon  France         2,171
13 NR  301–350  Abu Dhabi University  United Arab Emirates         3,926
14 12  301–350  Reykjavík University  Iceland         2,757
15 11  301–350  Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT  Finland         4,609
16 18  301–350  Universiti Brunei Darussalam  Brunei Darussalam         3,641
17 16  351–400  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences  Sweden         4,216
18 21  351–400  University of Vaasa  Finland         3,873
19 NR  351–400  Shoolini University of Biotechnology and Management Sciences  India         2,973
20 17  351–400  IMT Atlantique  France         1,436
21 27  401–500  Free University of Bozen-Bolzano  Italy         4,236
22 29  401–500  SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College)  United Kingdom         1,325
=23 26  401–500  Institut Agro  France         2,148
=23 NR  401–500  The University of Tulsa  United States         4,407
25 22  401–500  University of Alaska Fairbanks  United States         2,910
26 20  401–500  University of Klagenfurt  Austria         3,562
27 =36  401–500  Sabancı University  Turkey         3,819
=28 =36  401–500  Lincoln University  New Zealand         2,492
=28 42  401–500  Mahatma Gandhi University  India         1,855
30 35  401–500  Alagappa University  India         4,831
=31 41  501–600  University of Nicosia  Cyprus         4,696
=31 25  501–600  École des Mines de Saint-Étienne  France         1,115
=33 19  501–600  Harokopio University  Greece         3,125
=33 23  501–600  SOAS University of London  United Kingdom         4,656
35 40  501–600  University of Neuchâtel  Switzerland         4,148
=36 31  501–600  Centrale Nantes  France         1,730
=36 NR  501–600  International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad  India         1,862
38 24  501–600  Jacobs University  Germany         1,556
=39 38  501–600  Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU)  Japan         3,010
=39 32  501–600  Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST)  South Korea         1,808
41 =33  601–800  Clark University  United States         3,273
42 28  601–800  Indian Institute of Technology Indore  India         2,001
43 30  601–800  Cyprus University of Technology  Cyprus         3,280
44 45  601–800  Lahore University of Management Sciences  Pakistan         4,499
45 47  601–800  American University of Sharjah  United Arab Emirates         4,468
46 NR  801–1000  National Institute of Technology Hamirpur  India         3,823
47 NR  801–1000  Sunway University  Malaysia         4,638
48 NR  801–1000  Indian Institute of Technology Patna  India         2,203
49 46  801–1000  Zewail City of Science and Technology  Egypt         1,184
50 39  801–1000  Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar  India         1,782
51 =50  801–1000  Bharathiar University  India         4,097
52 49  801–1000  University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC)  Canada         3,008
53 NR  1001–1200  IMT Nord Europe  France         1,484
=54 NR  1001–1200  University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences  Iran         1,746
=54 44  1001–1200  Clarkson University  United States         4,024
56 =50  1001–1200  University of Maragheh  Iran         3,146
57 NR  1001–1200  Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata  India         1,563
58 56  1001–1200  Technical University of Cartagena  Spain         4,466
59 53  1001–1200  Tallinn University  Estonia         4,178
60 54  1201–1500  Acharya Nagarjuna University  India         4,872
=61 =63  1201–1500  Ming Chi University of Technology  Taiwan         4,514
=61 59  1201–1500  Cochin University of Science and Technology  India         3,969
63 55  1201–1500  Tezpur University  India         4,028
64 62  1201–1500  Nagoya City University  Japan         4,514
65 =63  1201–1500  University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague  Czech Republic         4,006
66 57  1201–1500  Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal  India         1,724
67 68  1201–1500  TOBB University of Economics and Technology  Turkey         4,822
68 65  1201–1500  Toyohashi University of Technology (TUT)  Japan         2,033
69 58  1201–1500  University of Yamanashi  Japan         4,604
70 60  1201–1500  National Research University of Electronic Technology (MIET)  Russian Federation         4,736
71 67  1201–1500  Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology  Japan         2,595
72 70  1201–1500  Tzu Chi University  Taiwan         3,373
73 61  1201–1500  Damghan University  Iran         4,980
74 66  1201–1500  Kochi University of Technology  Japan         2,593
75 69  1501+  Ochanomizu University  Japan         2,743
76 =71  1501+  Universidade Federal de Ciências da Saúde de Porto Alegre (UFCSPA)  Brazil         4,882
77 NR  1501+  University of Fukui  Japan         4,902
78 73  1501+  Kyoto Institute of Technology  Japan         3,958
79 75  1501+  Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies  Latvia         3,891
80 =71  1501+  University of Shizuoka  Japan         3,125
81 76  1501+  Utsunomiya University  Japan         4,829

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