It’s easy to assume that the older a university is, the better. After all, a quick glance at the latest Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings shows Oxford (900 years old) and Cambridge (800 years old) sitting in the top spots.

But younger institutions also deserve attention. The same Times ranking has assessed the best universities under 50 years old, taking into account their teaching, research, international outlook and work with industry, revealing a few that could give their centuries-old counterparts a run for their money.

Image: Times Higher Education

Founded in 1969 and located on the sunny shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne sits in the top spot. It’s also placed 12th in the latest QS World University Rankings.

The institution scores particularly highly on its international outlook (more than half of its 10,000 students are from abroad). According to the THE, Switzerland is one of the “big global trading hubs” that looks beyond its borders for personnel and ideas.

The Asian high-flyers

Image: REUTERS/Bobby Yip

In second place, 26-year-old Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is the first of five newer Asian institutions in the top 10. It is 30th in the QS World University Rankings.

Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is a rising star, jumping 13 places since 2012. And to add to its appeal, its main campus has been named one of the Top 15 Most Beautiful in the World.

City University is Hong Kong’s second institution on the list. Established in 1994, it’s in seventh place. The university is known for achievements such as launching Hong Kong’s first-ever undergraduate programme in veterinary medicine.

The young achievers

South Korea is home to one of the world’s smallest universities: fourth-placed Pohang University of Science and Technology, known as POSTECH, was founded in 1986. Loosely modelled on the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it focuses on science and technology education and is very selective – only 320 students a year get through its doors.

Barely out of nappies, Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is only eight years old and one of the youngest universities in the world. Yet it has managed to land in ninth place. It was established thanks to a merger between a much older university, the University of Karlsruhe (founded in 1825), and a newer research facility, Kernforschungszentrum Karlsruhe, (founded in 1956).

Like Hong Kong, South Korea and Germany also have two institutions each in the top 10. Science and technology education is a key feature of fifth-placed Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). It encompasses the National NanoFab Center, which conducts research into how tiny devices can be used in everything from healthcare to computing.

Germany’s other top 10 entrant (eighth) is Ulm University, located in the south-west German state of Baden-Württemberg.

Meanwhile, sixth-placed Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, has the highest number of international students in the country. Italy’s Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, in joint ninth, counts Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, neuroscientist Giuliano Tononi and economist Nicoletta Batini as influential alumni.

The US and the UK, which dominate THE’s world rankings, don’t feature in the top 10.