Universities with the International Outlook

Brexit has been a hot topic for a while, especially after the outcome of the EU referendum being released on June 24. The referendum resulted in an overall vote to leave the EU, by 51.9%.

For universities in the UK, the outcome has caused understandable worries, about research funding from the EU, European researchers in the UK, and foreign students from European countries. Before the referendum, more than 100 vice-chancellors of UK universities made public an open letter, highlighting the importance of the EU and calling for votes to remain.

On the same day as the referendum result came out, Universities UK released a statement on the outcome, in which it said,

“Throughout the transition period our focus will be on securing support that allows our universities to continue to be global in their outlook, internationally networks and an attractive destination for talented people from across Europe. These features are central to ensuring that British universities continue to be the best in the world.”

A key message from this statement is that, if universities wish to be excellent in the face of global competition, they have to be ‘global in their outlook’, ‘internationally networked’ and ‘an attractive destination for talented people (from across Europe and beyond)’.

It’s out of the scope of this blog to assess the impact of Brexit on UK universities, but it is pertaining to look at which universities in the world are most international.

There are, for sure, many different ways to measure the extent of internationalisation in universities. In this blog, I examine the list of institutions compiled by the Times Higher Education (THE). THE, in early this year, published its own analysis, based on the results of the ‘international outlook’ indicator in the THE World University Rankings 2015-2016.

In short, there are three factors considered in the international outlook indicator: each institution’s proportion of international staff, proportion of international students, and proportion of research papers published with at least one co-author from another country. Each of these three factors is given equal weight when calculating the final result.

The list of top 200 most international universities in the world, the only online available version, is derived from the top 800 of the overall 2015-2016 ranking. Thus, institutions that fall out of the top 800 in the world, are not included in the analysis. Table 1 shows the top 20 institutions.

Table 1: Top 20 most international universities in the world

Rank Institution Country International outlook WUR 2015-2016 rank
1 Qatar University Qatar 99.9 601–800
2 University of Luxembourg Luxembourg 99.8 193
3 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong 99.5 44
4 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland 98.6 31
5 University of Geneva Switzerland 98.5 131
6 University of Macau Macau 98.4 401–500
7 ETH Zurich Switzerland 97.9 9
8 University of St Gallen Switzerland 97.6 351–400
9 National University of Singapore Singapore 96.2 26
10 Imperial College London UK 96 8
11 University of Innsbruck Austria 95.7 301–350
12 Auckland University of Technology New Zealand 95.6 601–800
12 American University of Sharjah UAE 95.6 601–800
14 Maastricht University Netherlands 95.5 88
15 United Arab Emirates University UAE 95 501–600
16 University of Basel Switzerland 94.7 101
17 Nanyang Technological University Singapore 94.6 55
18 University of Oxford UK 94.4 2
18 University College London UK 94.4 14
20 King’s College London UK 93.8 27

Source: Times Higher Education.

Qatar University tops the list, followed by University of Luxembourg and University of Hong Kong. Imperial College London is the highest ranked UK university in the list and the only one in top 10. Of top 20, 5 are from Switzerland, 4 from the UK, 2 from Singapore and 2 from UAE.

It’s interesting to see that, although countries e.g. the U.S. and the UK usually dominate in the overall ranking, it’s the smaller countries such as Switzerland and Singapore that lead the ranking of international outlook. Nevertheless, the UK is the country with most universities among top 200. A total of 64 UK universities make into the list.

Table 2: Ireland’s most international institutions

Rank Institution Country International outlook WUR 2015-2016 rank
40 Trinity College Dublin Ireland 90.5 160
46 Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Ireland 90.1 251–300
74 University College Dublin Ireland 86.3 176
138 Dublin City University Ireland 76.7 401–500
139 National University of Ireland, Galway Ireland 76.5 251–300
139 University of Limerick Ireland 76.5 501–600
146 National University of Ireland, Maynooth Ireland 75.6 351–400
147 University College Cork Ireland 75.5 351–400
172 Dublin Institute of Technology Ireland 70.5 601–800

Focused on Ireland, an overall positive picture emerges. A total of 9 Irish institutions make into top 200. Trinity College Dublin and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland are ranked among top 50 and University College Dublin is ranked among top 100. More interestingly, all of the Irish universities are ranked higher in the international outlook ranking than in the overall ranking. This tends to suggest that Irish universities collectively have some strength in recruiting international staff, attracting international students, and engaging in international research collaboration.


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