- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The U.S. may have the most prestigious universities in the world, but the best of a new generation of schools are found elsewhere, a major new survey shows.

Of the top 10 institutions founded in the past 50 years, only two are in the U.S., according to London-based Times Higher Education magazine, which on Thursday released its inaugural list of the best schools to open their doors since 1962. The U.K. takes three of the top 10 spots, but universities in South Korea, Switzerland and Hong Kong represent the cream of the crop.

“Some institutions have managed to achieve in a matter of years what the traditional elite universities have developed over many generations,” said Phil Baty, the magazine’s editor. “The landscape is changing quickly, and the old global hierarchies cannot rest on their laurels.”

South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology came in at No. 1, with Lausanne Federal Tech in Switzerland and Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology taking the second and third slots, respectively.

The lone U.S. school to make the top five is the University of California at Irvine, at No. 4, while another South Korean institution, the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daedeok Innopolis, comes in fifth.

France’s Universite Pierre et Marie Curie ranks sixth, while the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus takes the seventh spot. Three British schools - the University of York, Lancaster University and the University of East Anglia - round out the top 10.

Twenty U.K. universities cracked the top 100, the best showing of any nation. Australia boasts 14 schools on the list, while the U.S. has nine.

Rankings of the world’s top schools, including Times’ own list released earlier this year, typically list U.S. universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale, along with U.K. institutions such as Cambridge and Oxford, as the leaders in higher education.

The fact that young schools in South Korea and Hong Kong top those in the U.S. isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness in the nation’s higher education system, analysts say, but rather an indication that the U.S. college market has fully evolved and can’t support many more top-flight universities.

“Our system is simply much more mature than most on the list,” said Philip Altbach, director of Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education. “Our higher education system has sufficient capacity and probably enough top universities … and state governments have cut spending on higher education by 25 percent in the past decade or so. There is quite literally no money or energy for new public higher education institutions.”

But that doesn’t mean the U.S. college market has maxed out. Mr. Altbach pointed out that four of the top schools on the worldwide list are highly specialized institutions focused on science and technology.

It may be difficult, if not impossible, analysts say, for a new general-studies college to compete with the Harvards and Yales of the world, but there’s a growing role for institutions that find a specific niche, said Jorge Balan, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The top schools on the list “are all science and technology universities,” he said. “They’re specialties. They don’t look like the traditional university, which searches for a balance among a very wide variety of disciplines. “

A relatively new school, he said, shouldn’t expect to best centuries-old competitors in terms of general studies.

“If you go the traditional route, you’ll never get there,” Mr. Balan said.

The rankings also reflect the growing global competition in higher education, according to Mr. Balan. Schools around the world are now competing for the smartest students and best faculty while seeking to cultivate their reputations as hubs of scientific and technological breakthroughs.

As economies in South Korea, Hong Kong and elsewhere grow, Mr. Balan said, the top professors and researchers likely will follow.

“The brains and markets are now moving to East Asia,” he said.

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