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Top 100 under 50 years rankings: An insight

Hotcourses Abroad editor speaks to Phil Baty about the Time Higher Education Top 100 under 50 years and what the future might bring in the world of education.


[Update: Read our interview with Phil Baty following the June 2013 release of the 100 Under 50 Rankings]

The Top 100 under 50 years celebrates the work of 'rising star' universities around the world that have achieved what many others have in centuries. Such a great innovation needed a bit more detail. Hotcourses Abroad speaks with Phil Baty, editor at large of the Times Higher Education rankings, to find out more about the future of higher education and what big news these set of rankings bring.


Why have you decided to show an alternative set of rankings for younger institutions?

The Times Higher Education (THE) has been publishing the World University Rankings (WUR) for 8 years and we’ve have become very well known for providing a very authoritative and respected ranking of the world’s best universities. But what we’ve had over the years is loads of people arguing about our methodology and how we define our indicators. They say that old universities have this huge advantage and have often had centuries to develop great alumni networks and in that time they have been able to accumulate land and wealth, so there is no doubt that these world class universities have been second to none in terms of quality.

What we are trying to do here is very exciting and that is trying to look at the future: In THE 100 under 50 years old, the institutions have achieved that status in an extremely short period of time, or they have shown potential of where they might be leading to, so it is an interesting ranking to see who are those who have achieved greatness in decades whilst it has taken other institutions hundreds of years.


Are these ranking a kind of response to critics of the more traditional rankings?

We take a very collegiate approach to rankings. They will always be very controversial, no one will ever agree in the best metrics to apply, some of those factors cannot be looked at a global scale, so rankings will always be criticised.

THE approach has always been to be as transparent as we can and that means to put more information in the public domain. We want to offer more information to those that use our rankings: they are used by governments, universities, faculties, partners, but they are also heavily used by students, and for this reason we want to make sure students have as much information as they can get.

During the preparation for these rankings we also spoke to Professor Andrew Oswald a leading economist from University of Warwick and he made a very important point: sometimes the best place to be a student isn’t always going to be Harvard and Oxford. They are known for offering fantastic undergraduate and student experience but there are other institutions with different histories, different cultures, different feel, and they also can offer fantastic experiences for students.

Professor Oswald also pointed out that sometimes ancient universities have become complacent, have rested in their laurels, they are not going to work as hard to offer students the fantastic experiences that they want, so the up- and-coming universities often can be as important to students as the great traditional as they can much more responsive to student needs.

It is, therefore, our commitment to give the public and the sector as much information as we can and to let people understand the different rankings.


What were the key factors which were taken into account?

This new ‘Top 100 under 50’ list is based very closely on the prestigious WUR 13 key indicators, spread-out across the full range of universities’ network. We look at teaching, research and international outlook, among others.

We have used the exact 13 indicators but we have given a slightly lower weight to those aspects that, people say, favour the old universities. So in the reputation rankings, we have surveyed 17,500 academics to give us a sense of the prestige of universities and departments and we used that indicator in the WUR. We reduced the weight of this indicator for THE 100 under 50, from 1/3 of the weight down to about 1/5.

Overall, these rankings have the same balance of activities but with less emphasis on heritage and reputation which can be influenced by history.


Was ‘reputation’ the only factor that was recalibrated?

By slightly shrinking the reputation factor, we obviously had to recalibrate some of the others to compensate. We have just given a marginal increase to the rest of indicators in order to shrink the ‘reputation’ factor.


In terms of the impact of citations, one of the key factors, the influence of the English language research and publication is still very strong, how is Pohang University of Science and Technology, number one in the rankings, managing this?

I think the database we used, we looked at citations as a way to decide how influential the research of a university is and the widely accepted way to do that is to look at the published research and to see how many times it is shared and cited by other scholars. What you find is that if you are a world-class research university you are already targeting these English language journals.

However, you will also find that universities like South Korea’s POSTECH are already publishing English language world-class research in physics, for example.

That’s why East Asia, with South Korea and Taiwan at the top end, showed very good performance: these universities are also increasingly focusing on teaching in English language. POSTECH makes a very important point about having a multicultural campus and they make sure they have a good number of courses taught in English as well.

A lot of the institutions feel that by teaching in English, they are helping to educate global citizens, that they need to create graduates that are comfortable working in any country, any walk of business.  The future leaders of business , industry and governments need to be very globally minded and that often means that English is the preferred language.


Are there any other trends that these rankings reveal?

One of the characteristics of the top end of this table is FOCUS: a lot of these institutions have got a narrower focus and specialisation. They have picked their strengths and have concentrated their resources on them, which I think it’s a way of becoming excellent quickly.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s business programmes are widely regarded around the world. Being in such a privileged position as the bridge between the West economies and Chinese economy, Hong Kong UST has got incredible strength.

In a world in which employers very much follow these rankings and seek for graduates from prestigious universities, how can international students find the right balance?

There is no doubt that ‘brand’ and ‘reputation’ count for an awful lot in the graduate job’s market, so of course many employers prefer to employ graduates from Oxford or Harvard. But we also need to educate employers, there is more than one model of excellent in higher education, there is more than one way of doing things and we hope this list helps the world understand the diversity of higher education.

In offering more information to the public domain and helping the global students’ community and global public at large, we are helping to educate the world at large and we are encouraging employers to look at different names. It is a positive development to say that there is more to life than the ivory tower and the household names.


It is definitely great news to see some many countries represented….

The traditional rankings are always completely dominated by America, which is quite right because American universities are doing a fantastic job, no question… but the key is, they can’t rely on that forever, they need to keep spending. The great state universities in America are suffering with funding cuts and we are seeing evidence that there is some decline in the big names in America whilst other countries are investing in education and have started to rise.

Ultimately this list is just a snapshot, it’s only 50 years taken into account and things might change, but it is hint on the future of universities and education around the world.


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Aspiring journalist and Cambridge University graduate, Londoner 'by adoption'. Tweeting for @hotcourses_Abrd