But as the editor of the rankings, I’d suggest that just
three metrics of the 13, given only a modest weight in the overall calculation
of the rankings scores, could be seen as the most important in ensuring
excellence on the global stage is sustainable – these are the indicators of
To measure a university’s international outlook we look
simply at what proportion of its faculty is international, what proportion of
students are from abroad, and what proportion of an institution’s research is
published with at least one international co-author (the more the better). Each
element makes up just 2.5 per cent of the overall ranking score – 7.5 per cent
for 'international outlook' in total.
Well first of all they offer a proxy for strength in a
competitive global marketplace. While the indicators are of course challenged
by the context of geography (for example, it is easier for Luxemburg or Geneva
universities to be international than it is for University of Wyoming), they do
indicate that a university is, as expected in a ranking of the world’s leading
institutions, operating in a global market for talent (both for staff and students),
and is engaged in research that transcends local or national concerns.
But more importantly, I believe that an internationally
diverse campus is essential to success. My views are shared by many, of course,
and are perhaps best summarised by Lino Guezzella, president of ETH Zurich,
which is a world top 10 institution and was recently named by THE as the
world’s most international university.
'I know of no top university that does not have a
substantial percentage of its faculty, students and workforce that are
international. It is simply not possible to achieve high levels of excellence
without being open to the world.'
For today’s students, despite the current tide of populist
nationalism sweeping some countries, being exposed to different cultures and
different ideas and different approaches to issues, is essential to learning.
The idea that universities must nurture students as resilient 'global citizens'
has slipped into cliché because it is true.
In research, the best creative thinking will come through
collaborations, increasingly across disciplinary and national borders. Alice
Gast, president of Imperial College London popularised the notion, borrowed
from botany, of “hybrid vigour” in global research teams. She explained in an
article in THE: 'As you build a team, you bring together diverse people to
provide the most effective views. Individuals brought up in different
educational systems and with exposure to different societies and markets
approach problems differently; thus, international teams broaden and augment
Indeed, the question of a university’s 'international
outlook' seemed so pertinent, that THE’s data team took its first in-depth look
at the issue in isolation earlier this year – producing our first ranking of
the World’s Most International Universities.
After previous exercises had simply extracted the 'international outlook'
column for the World University Rankings, in the interests of data
transparency, this time we also examined a university’s global reputation –
based on our annual survey of around 10,000 leading scholars across the world.
To be included, universities not only had to have a substantial proportion of
staff, students and research in the international context, they needed to have
a substantial volume of votes from the reputation survey from outside their
national borders. The data were promoted on social media under the hash-tag
The exercise could not have been more timely. The results
came out in the week that US President Donald Trump issued the first of his
hugely controversial executive orders to halt immigration from seven
Muslim-majority countries, and just a week or so after UK Prime Minister
Theresa May outlined her plans for a so-called 'hard Brexit', with grave
uncertainties over what this may mean for the flow of talent between the UK and
Europe. The latter is, inevitably, at the top of UK vice-chancellors’ risk
registers, given the vital importance of international teams to the global
pre-eminence of our research base.
The attention, the analysis and the debate sparked by the
release of the new ranking in such a tumultuous time served to highlight that
the stakes in the global battle for talent could not be higher. And the risks
and rewards could not be greater.