Traditionally insular countries forging global links

Russia and Taiwan improve in list of the world’s most international universities, while UK and Canada backslide 

January 19, 2022
Russia Winter Palace
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View the THE list of the world’s most international universities 2022

Countries with the weakest global links are becoming more international, while some of the most connected countries are losing ground, according to an analysis of the data behind Times Higher Education’s latest list of the world’s most international universities.

The international ranking, which includes 193 universities, measures the share of international staff, students and co-authorship at institutions, as well as their international reputations. This last measure is based on THE’s Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field (see methodology below).

Russia and Taiwan, territories with traditionally fewer global links, have seen the biggest increases in their overall international score. The UK and Canada have two of the best-connected higher education systems, but both are revealed to have lost ground in the latest table.

The average overall score for Russian universities increased from 43.6 out of 100 in 2020 to 48.3 in 2022. This is driven by higher scores for international students and staff and an improvement in international reputation.

In 2013, Russia launched its 5-100 project with the aim of propelling five of its universities into a top 100 position in global rankings. The strategy aimed to increase international staff and student numbers. Overall, universities involved in Project 5-100 saw their international score in the THE World University Rankings improve by almost 23 points on average between 2016 and 2022.

Igor Chirikov, senior researcher at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, said that just over 50 per cent of international students in Russia come from former Soviet republics. About 13 per cent are from China and 5 per cent from India.

However, Dr Chirikov said that while the number had been increasing before the pandemic, it is now likely to have stalled. The 2022 international ranking is based mainly on data from 2019. He added that courses in English are still only taught “at a small fraction of universities, [about] 10 to 15, and mostly at a master's level”. 

Russia would have seen an even bigger jump in overall score in the international ranking were it not for a decline in its international co-authorship score (now 30.5, down from 33.8 in 2020), possibly linked to a 2019 order by Russia’s Education Ministry limiting researchers’ interactions with foreigners.

Taiwan had the biggest increase in average overall score, jumping from 33.8 to 40.6, a result of improvements in all four metrics.

The Netherlands, which traditionally scores highly, has also improved. The average score in 2022 is 85.7, up from 76.8 two years prior.

Separate data from the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation on the Netherlands show that in 2018, 12 per cent of all tertiary students were from abroad compared with just 4 per cent in 2010. The country is part of a trend across Europe of rapid internationalisation of student cohorts.

Hans de Wit, professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said the rise is especially apparent in research universities in the Netherlands and is dominated by undergraduate rather than master’s students. Outside European countries the main source nations are China, India and the US.

There are several causes, de Wit said. “Brexit is an important factor, but other factors also play a role, such as the availability of courses and programmes in English, visa and work policies, reputation of Dutch higher education (mainly the research universities), and active recruitment policies by institutions and government.”

The UK is the most globally connected higher education system, when analysing countries with three or more institutions ranked in each of the past three years, but its score has slipped since 2020. The average overall score for the UK in 2022 is 90.1, a slight drop from 2020 when it was 91.0.

The UK’s score stayed broadly the same for the number of international students, staff and co-authored papers. The score for international reputation dropped from 83.8 to 79.9. 

Canada is also a high scorer but has dipped since 2020 (from 88.6 to 88.1), driven by a drop in scores for co-authorship and reputation.


The THE list of the world’s most international universities is based on data collected for the THE World University Rankings 2022. It is based on four equally weighted metrics:

  • Proportion of international staff
  • Proportion of international students
  • Proportion of international co-authorship (the share of a university’s total research journal publications between 2016 and 2020 that have at least one international co-author, normalised to account for an institution’s subject mix)
  • Proportion of international reputation (the share of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field).

Only institutions that were ranked in the 2022 World University Rankings and received at least 100 votes in the reputation survey were eligible for inclusion. To be included, universities also had to receive at least 50 domestic votes or at least 10 per cent of the available domestic votes. Once universities are ranked in the international list, they are only excluded if they do not meet the vote thresholds for two consecutive years. 

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Reader's comments (2)

The methodology might skew the numbers towards bigger countries especially that to be included, not only universities should have "received at least 100 votes in the reputation survey" universities also have to receive "at least 50 domestic votes or at least 10 per cent of the available domestic votes", in country with one national university, it might prove challenging...
The UK is a terrible place to go now for an International student. I really regret going there as an International student.