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Top Marks For Europe’s New Unis

Melanie Butler analyses the Times Higher Education rankings for universities less than fifty years old and finds that many of the new stars are from the old world.

Europe dominates the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings of universities under fifty years old. Sixty-two per cent of all 150 universities listed by THE are geographically in Europe, compared to 37 in Asia. However Australasia, with a population of just 28 million people, has twenty ranking new universities, or one per 1.8 million people, compared to one per eight million people in Europe. Australia, with nineteen ranking universities, comes in as the second most successful nation, just behind the UK, which has 25 – alllisted here.


The worst performers are the Americas, with just ten ranking new universities – five in the US, four in Canada and just one, the State University of Campinas in Brazil, in the whole of Latin America. However, the raw data must be read with care because some figures may be more of a reflection of the policy of individual governments in the last fifty years than of the strength of the academic infrastructure.

Both Australia and the UK, for example, launched massive university building programmes in the 1960s aimed at increasing the number of graduates in the working population, while the US, which already had a much larger percentage of graduates, did not have a policy of further expansion. The new universities there have tended to be for-profit colleges.

Government policy in Asia, by contrast, has largely been to invest more in existing universities to improve their performance rather than push to expand the sector. This has helped drive more Asian universities up the overall world university rankings – indeed four of Asia’s new universities in the under fifty list are already in the THE top 200 universities worldwide: two in Korea, one in Singapore and one in Hong Kong.


Top 100 (ranked in order)

Dundee (University of)
Bath (University of)
Surrey (University of)
Stirling (University of)
Plymouth University
Loughborough University
Aston University
Brunel University London
City University London
Heriot-Watt University
Portsmouth (University of)

Top 101–150 (ranked alphabetically)

Bournemouth University
Bradford (University of)
De Montfort University
Hertfordshire (University of)
Kingston University
Liverpool John Moores University
Manchester Metropolitan University
Middlesex University
Northumbria University
The Open University
Oxford Brookes University
University of Salford
Ulster University 
West of England (University of)

Three times as many of Europe’s universities, however, have made it to the top in both the under fifty and in the top 200 overall.

Germany alone has three and Spain has two, doubling its representation in the top 200 world rankings. Indeed nearly half the twenty European countries whose have universities in the ‘150 under 50’ have at least one of those in the top 200 in the world. Only one of those countries, the UK, is English-speaking, although in the Netherlands English is widely used as an academic language, even at undergraduate level.

The big mainland EU countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, are fighting their way into the rankings and using their new universities, rather than their underperforming traditional academic centres, to do so. Only three of the sixteen top-ranked new universities are in English-medium higher education systems: Dundee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore – although the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, also teaches most of its courses in English.

It is perhaps not the rise of Europe but the rise of non-anglophone universities which is the most significant development in the THE’s latest ranking of universities which are under fifty years old.

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