COLLABORATION

Young universities better at international collaboration

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Researchers in universities set up in the past 50 years appear to be having greater success in collaborating with academics based in other countries.

Researchers in universities set up in the past 50 years are having greater success in collaborating with academics based in other countries, a Times Higher Education (THE) data analysis has found.

The Young University Rankings 2019 came out last week, and after a comparison with older universities, THE determined that those established in recent decades are more likely to score highly on international co-authorship. The newest among them – founded after 2000 – has the biggest amount of researchers reaching across borders.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology came out top in the global ranking, with Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, coming in second and third, respectively. France’s Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University and City University of Hong Kong round out the top five of young universities.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham was the number one American university, and Oxford Brookes took the first place for the UK.

The rankings paint a picture of the shifting higher education landscape. The performance indicators are grouped into five areas: teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); citations (research influence); international outlook (staff, students and research); and industry income (knowledge transfer).

The results show that young institutes tend to focus on a smaller range of subjects than their older counterparts. Technology subjects also tend to feature more prevalently at younger universities that are more focused on the relevant skills needed for the 21st-century.

Caroline Wagner, Milton and Roslyn Wolf chair of international affairs at Ohio State University, told THE that this focus on tech and innovation may be the reason behind the high level of international collaboration.

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“New universities can focus on technological studies because the knowledge is easily transferrable, derivative, and empirical,” she said.

For the same reasons, “it is easier to engage in international collaboration in technical and scientific areas because the work transcends social and cultural contexts (to a large extent), uses a ‘common language’, can be empirically validated, and raises the reputation and attention gained by all collaborating parties.”

“Social sciences and humanities are more difficult to collaborate in because of the need to agree on essential theoretical underpinnings that often do not translate well across cultures,” Wagner added.

More universities are also embracing an interdisciplinary approach to education, making collaboration more likely across fields and also across countries.

Collaborating with academics from overseas and in different disciplines can alter how researchers view a subject area and open up new avenues of thought that otherwise may have gone unexplored.

Collaboration is becoming an accepted part of higher education and in an increasingly globalised world, reaching across borders seems inevitable.