What is “young” when it comes to the universities of the world?
Although officially founded in 1832, Durham University in the UK traces its traditions in scholarship back to the work of the Venerable Bede in the 7th century. Italy’s University of Bologna, often described as the first Western university, was founded about 400 years later, in 1088.
Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote that “about eighty-five institutions in the Western world established by 1520 still exist in recognizable forms, with similar functions and with unbroken histories, including the Catholic Church, the parliaments of the Isle of Man, of Ireland and of Great Britain, several Swiss cantons, and seventy universities.
“Kings that rule, feudal lords with vassals, and guilds with monopolies are all gone. These seventy universities, however, are still in the same locations with some of the same buildings, with professors and students doing much the same things, and with governance carried on in much the same ways.”
Times Higher Education has grappled with the issues of age and university development over its own five-decades-long history as it has reported on new waves of universities created around the world – in 1992 in the UK, for example, when dozens of universities were created from former polytechnic institutions, and in the late 1980s and into the 1990s in Australia.
In 2013, we turned to the data behind our World University Rankings to help us better understand the issue, inventing the “100 Under 50” ranking. This looked at those universities under the age of 50, which the UK economist Andrew Oswald described as the “likely future Harvards and Berkeleys”. But as that ranking evolved and expanded, and as universities previously in our “under 50” list matured and dropped out through the arbitrary nature of passing time, more nuance was needed.
Can universities aged just 51 suddenly be considered “old” in the context of centuries of university traditions? How can we monitor their maturation? Is it right to compare a 50-year-old university with one created de novo this millennium?
For finer gradation, we now take a generational approach, with multiple ranking tables focusing on different generations of “young” universities. The first of the tables in this supplement is the “Golden Age” universities. These are the maturing young institutions, founded, often as part of national renewal programmes, after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Next we have our more traditional “under 50” – now extending to 250 universities. But we also consider the real minnows of global higher education – Generation X universities, founded between 1968 and 1985, Generation Y universities, founded between 1986 and 1999, and Millennial universities, founded since the year 2000.
We are delighted that the lists and the underlying data and analyses provide rich insights into the challenges of building great research universities, help us to track the progress of exciting and dynamic institutions created in modern times, and allow us to identify the likely next generation of future global university superstars, and the emerging regional powerhouses of higher education.
Phil Baty is editorial director, global rankings, Times Higher Education.