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Times 100 Under 50 2013: Interview with Phil Baty

Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education, spoke to us about this year's 2013 THE 100 Under 50 Rankings, as well as about tight immigration controls and the future of the rankings.

Phil Baty, Times Higher Education

We spoke to Phil Baty, Editor of Times Higher Education, to ask him a few questions about 2013's 100 Under 50 rankings:


Do you see any patterns in the kinds of disciplines or fields which these newer institutions appear specialize in?  Or is it more a case of them bringing new, modern approaches to traditional subjects?

‘The top ten of this list is exceptionally diverse in terms of the countries represented, but it is dominated very clearly by one particular type of institution: smaller, highly specialist science and technology-based universities.

If you are building new institutions from scratch to compete with universities with often many centuries of tradition and many years of accumulating wealth, it clearly pays off to have a clear focus, and to concentrate on niche strengths.

Indeed, many of the younger universities on this list do something different to the traditional elite on the overall World University Rankings: they focus research on clear niche areas; they undertake more applied research with more immediate, real-world applications; and they have a clear focus on teaching students for the real-world too, with a clear vocational element, often linked closely to the research areas.’


The UK has the most institutions in this year’s rankings. What kind of message do you think this sends to the government following the recent news of a drastic decline in international student numbers (a result of tighter immigration controls)?

‘This ranking shows that the UK has incredible strength in depth: not only do we have our ancient universities and our Victorian institutions competing at the highest levels in the THE World University Rankings, but we have a generation of 1960s institutions which have very quickly established themselves as clear global players; and even some of our former Polytechnics, created as universities in 1992, are now performing in their niche areas at a world-class level.

The UK has one of the world’s strongest higher education systems in the world, and is a magnet for top talent academic and students from all over the world. Attracting talent into the UK is essential for the future competitiveness of our universities – indeed, of our economy as a whole. So it is absolutely wrong to be putting up a “closed” sign and sending a message that skilled and talented immigrants are not welcome.

Whatever the details of the visa clampdown, a clear message is conveyed that we are closed for business. Many of our competitors – in North America, continental Europe and Australia – are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of luring brilliant minds who would in the past have headed to the UK, to their countries. It is a serious concern.’


In what direction do you see the rankings going in the next few years? Which countries do you see emerging, as older institutions become ineligible?

‘There is a real element of cruelty in the under 50 ranking – it only lists those institutions under the age of 50, so this year anyone founded before 1963 is excluded.

Next year the 1964 institutions are out. This means the analysis is quite deliberately a forward-looking snapshot in time. It is of more value as a symbol of which nations are rising to challenge the crown of the US and UK, and which institutions are the rising stars.

On this basis, there is real excitement about the performance of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But I’d also suggest we’ll see institutions in south east Asia and the middle east rising – places like HKUST, Postech, KAIST and NTU have shown that world-class teaching and research institutions can, with the right financial backing and the right leadership, rise to the top very quickly.

Many emerging nations are seeking to emulate that success, and are investing heavily to achieve it.’


Read our full coverage of the THE 100 Under 50 rankings.

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