Challenging the old universities

Nieuws | de redactie
5 november 2015 | According to a new ranking from U-Multirank older universities still top the list when it comes to performance. However, many new universities are bucking the trend and finding strategies to outperform their years.

The ranking shows that age does make a difference when it comes to research performance, but reveals a newer breed of universities around the world that are challenging the traditional institutions.  

For the ranking, U-Multirank’s expert team divided over 1,200 universities into four age categories based on when they were established: before 1870; between 1870 and 1945; between 1945 and 1980; and after 1980.

Challenge the supremacy

The older the group was, the more likely its universities were to score top ‘A’ ratings for indicators of excellent performance in research. For example, on citation rate (a measure of how influential academic research is), 38% of universities in the oldest group gained the top score, while just one in ten of the youngest group achieved the same. The other two groups confirmed the trend with proportions of 38% (for the 1870 to 1945 group) and 22% (1945-1980).

However, older universities do not have it all their own way. Each age group includes universities that challenge the supremacy of long-established universities like Oxford and Harvard. For example, Rockefeller University and Telecom ParisTech shone in the 1870-1945 group. Eindhoven University of Technology and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology did well in the 1945-1980 group. And even in the group of universities founded in the past 35 years, the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Pompeu Fabra University performed significantly beyond their ages.

The ranking also reveals a potential weakness among older universities. When it came to collaborative research, the age differences largely disappeared. The oldest group were only ahead when it came to producing international co-publications and even that advantage vanished in the measures of regional co-publication.

Drivers of local economic growth

Closer study of the findings also sheds some light on the reason for the link between age of university and research performance. “Many universities were founded post-1945 and they account for a large percentage of the world’s higher education institutions,” said Professor Dr. Frans van Vught, U-Multirank’s joint project leader. “They were not necessarily created with the intention of ever becoming international centres of research excellence. Instead, they gave more people from a wider variety of backgrounds the opportunity to study. They also became drivers of local and regional economic growth.”

Professor Dr. Frank Ziegele, U-Multirank’s joint project leader added, “Age of course is not in and of itself a contributor to research performance. The question is what are the contributing factors associated with age that explain these differences in research performance. U-Multirank begins to answer that question and makes performance transparent.”  

U-Multirank allows everyone to do their own comparison of universities, understand where they perform strongly, and by ranking them alongside similar universities to see the factors that may be making a difference, whether it’s age, geography or what the university is aiming to achieve. 


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