Edition 175 - November 2015

U-Multirank study on university research strength: Older, wiser?

While older universities traditionally outperform their younger peers on indicators of research excellence, many younger universities are punching above their age in research performance, according to a new analysis by U-Multirank published on 4 November. Created with the support of the European Union in 2008, the U-Multirank project assesses the performance of universities across a number of activities. Its latest study explores the relationship between university age and research performance

U-Multirank’s team divided 1200 universities into four groups based on their founding year: before 1870; 1870 - 1945; 1945 - 1980; and after 1980. The results showed that the likelihood of a group’s universities scoring top grades on research performance indicators increased with their age. This trend was displayed across all four measures of research performance used by U-Multirank: citation rate, total number of publications, number of publications relative to the number of students and the proportion of top cited publications.  For instance, 38% of universities in the group of institutions founded before 1870 received the top score on citation rate (defined as the average number of times that the university's publications are cited), compared to just 10% of the universities founded after 1980 scoring equally well on this measure. 

However, the analysis revealed some younger stand-out performers who defy the notion that excellence in research is a prerogative of the old and wise. For example, Rockefeller University and Telecom ParisTech in the 1870-1945 group, as well as the Eindhoven University of Technology and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in the 1945-1980 group, challenge the research heavyweights founded before 1870. Among the universities founded in the last 35 years, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Pompeu Fabra University stand out as institutions performing ahead of their years.   

While age certainly cannot be considered as the cause of research strength, the authors of the study point out some potential factors associated with age that may contribute to these differences. Older universities traditionally benefit from large endowments and thus excellent facilities and resources for research, which can attract top researchers. Older universities also tend to be comprehensive universities with a strong focus on research, which differs from the type of university that mushroomed post-1945. Not necessarily intended as centres of research excellence, these post-1945 institutions were established to provide access to higher education for people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. These interesting tentative suggestions invite further research to shed light on the relationship between university age and research performance.

Press release

Ranking results by university age

(back to newsletter)