Rankings rivals slug it out over new universities

The main rivals in the international higher education rankings business went head to head last week to launch league tables of the world’s top newer universities.

Hours before Times Higher Education magazine was due to publish its Top 100 ranking of universities under 50 years old with data supplied by Thomson Reuters, QS leapt in with its own Top 50.

Both illustrate the impact of higher education investment in emerging economies, with universities from East Asia in particular challenging the dominant university systems of the United States and Britain.

The QS ranking is headed by two Hong Kong universities – the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Other Far East universities dominate the top 10: Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is fourth, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is fifth, Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology is seventh, and a third Hong Kong institution, City University of Hong Kong, is ninth.

UK universities perform strongly, with the universities of Warwick and York third and sixth respectively. Maastricht University in The Netherlands is the only continental European university and the University of California, Irvine (10th) is the only US university in the top 10.

The THE ranking places Korea's Pohang, a private university founded in 1986, at the top, with HKUST third and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology fifth. All other top 10 universities are from Europe and the US.

In contrast with the QS ranking, European universities are well represented in the THE top 10.

Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne is second, France’s Université Pierre et Marie Curie is sixth, and the UK’s York, Lancaster and East Anglia universities are eighth, ninth and 10th respectively. UC Irvine is fourth and the University of California, Santa Cruz is seventh.

The QS ranking seems to draw directly on the data used for its World University Ranking. Twenty-three countries are represented, led by Australia with 10 universities, followed by the UK with seven.

While Asian universities are solidly represented at the top of the table, it is Australia that dominates in terms of the number of institutions listed in the Top 50, reflecting its economic position at the crossroads between East and West. In contrast, North America is represented by just one US university and three from Canada.

THE says it has 'recalibrated' its World University Rankings data “to better reflect the profile of younger institutions”.

Although its best 'Under 50' universities fail to top the table, the UK has more institutions – 20 – in the THE list than any other nation. Australia follows with 14, while the US – which dominates the traditional World University Rankings – has just nine representatives.

In total, 30 countries or regions are represented in the top 100 – compared to just 26 in the THE World University Rankings top 200.

Phil Baty, editor of the THE rankings, said the selective ranking was a clear warning to the traditional elites in the US and UK that “new powers in higher education and research are quickly emerging”.

“The heritage institutions need to watch their backs. With focused investment, innovation, strategic vision and lots of talent, some institutions have managed to achieve in a matter of years what the traditional elite universities have developed over many generations. The landscape is changing quickly and the old global hierarchies cannot rest on their laurels.

“Asian institutions are showing great strength, and investment taking place in the Gulf, for example, is very promising.”

He suggested that the Under 50 ranking was an “extraordinary example” to all those nations who aspire to develop world-class research-led global universities.

“Those of the top of this list show what can be achieved in a short time with the political will and the right resources, while those lower down give a real insight into which institutions could be future global stars.”

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit, said: “Asia’s superior performance compared to Western universities established within the same time frame is testament to Asia’s dynamism.”

He added: “After Australia, the UK is the most represented country in this table – although this will change during the next few years as the youngest of the UK entrants were established in 1966.

“Perhaps the most interesting question is whether there is a next generation of post-1992 British universities ready to make a mark on the QS World University Rankings and whether recent funding reforms in British higher education will either help, or hinder, their ambitions.”

The Under 50 rankings from the two rivals are clearly directed less at would-be students, to whom the age of a university is likely to be much less relevant than its academic performance, and more at policy-makers – and, potentially, marketing departments.