Education and Skills

There is a great global 'levelling up' underway in universities

In 2018, universities in emerging economies represented 33.8 per cent of those listed in the World University Rankings. In the 2022 edition, they represented 42.0 per cent

In 2018, universities in emerging economies represented 33.8 per cent of those listed in the World University Rankings. In the 2022 edition, they represented 42.0 per cent Image: Pang Yuhao for Unsplash

Phil Baty
Chief Global Affairs Officer, Times Higher Education
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  • The World University Rankings have long been dominated by institutions in the UK and US, which together take up half of the top 100.
  • Since 2018, there has been a significant rise in the number of universities from emerging economies making the list.
  • This is good news for global equity, as it means broadening the basis for intellectual contributions to solving pressing global problems.

The higher education sector is characterized by stark inequalities – as are many other sectors in our grossly unequal world. Harvard University’s endowment of $50 billion is larger than the entire national research and development budget for Brazil, for example. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, all of the world’s top ten universities are based in just two countries: the United States and the United Kingdom, which together also take up half of the entire top 100.

Deeper into the world top 200, more than a quarter of all institutions, 57, are from the US. With the UK taking 28 places and Germany taking 22, these three western economic powerhouses alone take up over half of the available places. Countries classified as “emerging economies” by the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE Group make up just 7 per cent of the world top 200 list. The dominance of the elite western universities at the top of the rankings remains stubborn.

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However, in recent years, there’s been a significant and exciting shift. Data from the world rankings show that a great global levelling up is taking place in higher education and research. Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at the University of Oxford, says that this is excellent news for the world, giving us more – and more diverse – creativity, and a better chance of “solving the pressing global problems of industrial civilisation”.

There has been a significant rise in the number of universities from emerging economies making the THE World University Rankings
There has been a significant rise in the number of universities from emerging economies making the THE World University Rankings Image: Times Higher Education

The most eye-catching shift has been the rise of China – two of its universities, Tsinghua and Peking, broke into the world top 20 in the 2022 edition of the World University Rankings, and ten made it into the top 200, compared to just two less than a decade ago. But the levelling up goes well beyond China, with emerging economies as a group making great progress.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings examine more than 14.4 million research publications and gather the views of over 20,000 academics across the world, using 13 carefully-balanced performance indicators. The rankings have been expanding rapidly in recent years, as universities all over the world volunteer to join the global data benchmarking system, because it offers rigorous and comparable international performance indicators to track progress, as well as a powerful platform for institutions to earn global visibility. The rankings are backed by governments that have embraced the power of internationally-competitive universities to drive new knowledge and skills-driven economies.

But the expansion of the rankings has not just seen a significant rise in the number of universities from emerging economies make the prestigious list - it has seen their overall share of places grow too. In 2018, universities in emerging economies represented 33.8 per cent of the 1,103 universities listed in the World University Rankings. In the 2022 edition, they represented 42.0 per cent of the 1,662 universities ranked.

And while they increase their share of places on the list, they are rising higher up the list too. In Saudi Arabia, for example, King Abudulaziz University broke into the world top 200 this year, while its neighbour, Qatar University, has moved from outside the top 600 in 2016 to inside the top 350 in 2022.

Indeed, analysis from the last five annual editions of the rankings - the 2018 edition to 2022 edition – shows that while universities from emerging economies only marginally increased their representation in the elite top 200 from 5 per cent in 2018 to 7 per cent in 2022, their places in the top 200 were much higher – up by an average of 83 ranking places.

Universities from emerging economies have not only increased their share of places on the list, but have also risen further up the rankings.
Universities from emerging economies have not only increased their share of places on the list, but have also risen further up the rankings. Image: Times Higher Education

If we dip lower down the table, beyond the top 200, there’s a similar pattern. Looking at the top 500, emerging economies increased their representation from 10 per cent in 2018 to 15 per cent in 2022 – with the average ranking position shifting up 111 places.

"It is good for everyone,” said Margison of the data. “It doesn’t mean that higher education and science in the hitherto dominant Euro-American world has weakened – in fact as far as I can see it is getting stronger, especially in Western Europe. It means rather that capacity is more broadly spread, taking us into the post-colonial era in much of the world.

“Populations are becoming more and better educated and the scope for original inquiry and research-based innovation is also becoming widely distributed. This means more, and more diverse, understanding and creativity. It means broadening the basis for intellectual contributions to solving the pressing global problems of industrial civilisation. After all, these problems largely originated in the Euro-American world, making it less likely that the Euro-American world alone can solve them, so ‘the more the merrier’.”

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsEquity, Diversity and InclusionEconomic Growth
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