150 Under 50 Rankings 2016: Success can come quickly for young universities

How did some of the youngest institutions make such a strong showing in the rankings?

April 6, 2016
Humanoid robot Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Source: Alamy

Browse the full list of the world's top 150 universities under 50 years old


Although 50 years is young in university years – the average university in the top 200 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-16 is 213 years old – in today’s climate it is long enough to achieve success, says Luc Soete, rector magnificus at Maastricht University.

Thanks to advances in technology and the open science movement, younger universities are able to thrive in a way today that would not have been possible 100 years ago, says the head of the 40-year-old institution.

“What is so striking is that if you look at rankings of big firms, many of the top companies are newcomers – Google, Apple, Facebook,” he says. “Why is this not so much the case for universities? [Many rankings] still include the same players that were around 100 years ago.”

THE’s 150 Under 50 Rankings 2016 seeks to shine a spotlight on the disruptive newcomers that are challenging many of the traditional, mainly Western elites. Although universities that are 50 years old and under are eligible for this list, it is striking that many of those that achieve the highest scores are much younger. As the tables below reveal, four institutions in our top 150 are 10 years old or younger, led by Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (eighth), which was founded in 2009, while two other institutions in the overall top 10 are 25 or younger.

Some of these infant or teenage institutions are the results of mergers or de-mergers, but many are completely new universities that have launched aggressive strategies for achieving rapid success.

Soete says that Maastricht University, which is fourth in the 150 Under 50 ranking, was established to “provide innovation in higher education teaching”. He attributes its success to its problem-based learning strategy, modelled on the approach at Canada’s McMaster University, that involves students discussing topics in small groups with a mentor, rather than a focus on lectures, meaning that the students are “motivated to learn” and will “challenge” their tutors.

In addition, the institution’s “English unless” policy – which outlines that the default language for classes will be English – has been highly successful in attracting international students: almost half (48 per cent) of the university’s students come from outside the Netherlands. All international students also have an opportunity to take a basic Dutch language course, and 85 per cent of foreign students do so, says Soete.

“This means that ultimately after their degree students will be fluent in two or three languages – English, Dutch and their native language,” he says.


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“German or Dutch students can still go to the UK and get a top education. But to work from the first year onwards within a framework of a small group of students who motivate themselves – that is pretty unique.”

Doh-Yeon Kim, president of South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech) (fifth), which is just 30 years old, says that many East Asian countries, such as South Korea, China and Singapore, have undergone “rapid economic growth in the past couple of decades”, which has led to “the advent of young outstanding universities”.

He cites four factors that have helped Postech rise to global excellence in just three decades: each year the institution admits only 320 students, who receive one-on-one teaching; it continuously recruits and retains world-class scientists and engineers; it is largely funded by POSCO, one of the world’s largest steel companies; and it has had cutting-edge research infrastructure and environment “from the beginning”.

Many universities in the 150 Under 50 list are, like Postech, specialist institutions, particularly in the areas of science and technology. Kim believes that the university has benefited from this strategic choice, but he says it goes further than “simply concentrating resources”. For starters, he says the South Korean government provides more support to science and technology universities.

“When considering newer universities in non-English countries, it is rather difficult to conduct high-impact internationally visible research in humanities or social sciences,” he adds.

“In [the] case of STEM fields, however, the subjects are universal phenomena communicated in standardised terminology. Also, the international collaboration can be more active.”

However, he says that the main factor for the institution’s success is that it opened its doors in 1986 with a “clear focus”.

“Postech has always been geared towards conducting advanced research and providing high-quality education to dedicated top-class talent with a clear vision,” he says.

ellie.bothwell@tesglobal.com


Top 10 young universities aged 40 years and under

Rank 2015-16 Institution Country Foundation date
1 Nanyang Technological University Singapore 1991
2 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong 1991
3 Maastricht University Netherlands 1976
4 Pohang University of Science and Technology South Korea 1986
5 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany 2009
6 Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Italy 1987
7 University of Antwerp Belgium 2003
8 University of Luxembourg Luxembourg 2003
9 Pompeu Fabra University Spain 1990
10 University of Duisburg-Essen Germany 2003

Top 10 young universities aged 30 years and under

Rank 2015-16 Institution Country Foundation date
1 Nanyang Technological University Singapore 1991
2 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong 1991
3 Pohang University of Science and Technology South Korea 1986
4 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany 2009
5 Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Italy 1987
6 University of Antwerp Belgium 2003
7 University of Luxembourg Luxembourg 2003
8 Pompeu Fabra University Spain 1990
9 University of Duisburg-Essen Germany 2003
10 University of Technology, Sydney Australia 1988

Top 10 young universities aged 20 years and under

Rank 2015-16 Institution Country Foundation date
1 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany 2009
2 University of Antwerp Belgium 2003
3 University of Luxembourg Luxembourg 2003
4 University of Duisburg-Essen Germany 2003
5 Aalto University Finland 2010
6 Medical University of Vienna Austria 2004
7 Aix-Marseille University France 2012
8 University of Milan-Bicocca Italy 1998
9 Sabancı University Turkey 1996
10 University of Bordeaux France 2014

Top 4 young universities aged 10 years and under

Rank 2015-16 Institution Country Foundation date
1 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany 2009
2 Aalto University Finland 2010
3 Aix-Marseille University France 2012
4 University of Bordeaux France 2014

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