Unstoppable Rise of Young Universities

A new leader emerged in the QS ranking of universities that are less than 50 years old. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), one of the youngest institutions of all, takes the accolade after moving up from third position last year’s inaugural ranking.

HKUST was already the leader in the QS Asian University Ranking, also published last week. Established only in 1991, it has shown its quality against much older institutions, rising seven places to 33rd in the overall global ranking for 2012.

The latest “Top 50 Under 50” ranking sees one Hong Kong university replace another at its head. Last year’s leader, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is now too old to qualify, having reached its half-century along with four others from the 2012 top 50. The universities of York, East Anglia and Victoria, and King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals are in the same position.

However, HKUST has overtaken the University of Warwick to reach the top. It is one of three universities from Hong Kong in the top ten.

Second-placed Nanyang Technological University is of the same vintage as HKUST, although another university had occupied the same site previously. The Singaporean institution has moved up from fourth place, having also entered the top 50 in the 2012 QS World University Rankings.

Partly because of the loss of the five 50-year-olds, 29 of the universities in the new ranking have moved up since last year. However, the progress made by these young institutions is genuine: those in the Under 50 ranking have, on average, risen 2.7 places in the global ranking in the last 12 months.

All 50 institutions in the new table fall within the top 350 in the QS World University Ranking, despite the advantages enjoyed by historic universities in such comparisons. The Hong Kong Baptist University, 27th this year, is the youngest at less than 20 years old.

By far the highest new entrant is the Hong Polytechnic University, in ninth place. It was omitted from last year’s inaugural ranking as an institution that was more than 50 years old, but it has since been accepted that university status arrived only in 1994. The University of Wollongong, in Australia, is in a similar position, having been omitted last year because it had been a division of the University of New South Wales until becoming a university in its own right in 1975.

The two cases illustrate the difficulty inherent in deciding whether universities that have evolved from other institutions should be considered less than 50 years old. The criteria employed in this ranking omit merged universities in which the dominant partner is more than 50 years old, but include those that were colleges before being granted university status.

The other new entrants are Argentina’s Universidad Austral, a private university based in Buenos Aires; Brunel University, in London; King Abdul Aziz University, in Jeddah; Universitá degli Studi di Roma – Tor Vergata; Linköping University, in Sweden; and Germany’s Universität Bremen. All have been moving up the overall world rankings, Linköping by more than 50 places in 2012.

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