Where everybody knows your name: World's best small universities - THE
According to THE, among the many reasons students love small schools are smaller classes and closer teacher-student relationships, made possible by their small size. Source: Shutterstock

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has retained its top spot in Times Higher Education‘s (THE) annual World’s Best Small Universities list, followed by France’s École Normale Supérieure and South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech).

The universities, which must teach more than four subjects, have less than 5,000 students and are listed in THE‘s World University Rankings 2016-17, were ranked through surveys with their students.

In this year’s rankings, these smaller schools have an average of 3,038 students.

In contrast, the schools listed in THE’s World University Rankings 2016-17 have more than eight times the number of students, with an average of 24,953 students.

Among the many reasons the students love the schools, as told to THE, are smaller classes and closer teacher-student relationships, made possible by their small size.

One example can be found at Caltech, as THE’s rankings editor Phil Baty found when he visited the campus back in 2014.

With a small academic staff body and student population, students get plenty of opportunities for impromptu meetings and more multi-faculty collaboration, a perk which will prove harder to get in bigger campuses.

Caltech’s structure and operation have served as an inspiration to Postech.

The formula of running small science and technology-based research institutions well has played out right for both institutions. Both schools have retained their top five positions on the Best Small University list.

Choose what you want to learn

In École Normale Supérieure, home to the least number of students in the list, students get to enjoy the perks of going to a small school, but still not miss out on what a metropolitan city, such as Paris, can offer.

In addition, students also get the unique chance to design their own courses based on their interests and goals post-graduation.

“The effectiveness of our university training is strengthened by the personalised curriculum fitting our interests and professional projects,” says Aude Untersee, a geosciences undergraduate at the university.

Small universities work better for international students too, thanks to a more favourable student-to-teacher ratio, as the rankings found.

Chinese student at École Polytechnique (4th place on the list) Jianfei Zhang said the smaller class sizes, “really help us to master the various scientific concepts”.

“This is not easily feasible in big universities.”

Representing more than 10 countries in Europe, Asia and the US, here are the best “tiny” universities in the world:

2017 Best Small
University Rank
University Country Total students THE’s World University
Rankings 2016-2017
1 California Institute of Technology US 2181 2
2 École Normale Supérieure France 1548 66
3 Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech) South Korea 3017 104
4 École Polytechnique France 2669 116
5 Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Italy 545 137
6 Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Italy 679 190
7 École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France 2238 201-250
8 Indian Institute of Science India 3398 201-250
9 Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden 3838 251-300
10 Free University of Bozen-Bolzano Italy 2813 251-300
11 Koç University Turkey 4793 251-300
12 Clark University US 3239 301-350
13 University of Alaska Fairbanks US 3875 301-350
14 Sabancı University Turkey 2999 301-350
15 Hasselt University Belgium 4913 401-500
16 Cyprus University of Technology Cyprus 3012 401-500
17 Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) Tokyo 2906 401-500
18 University of Neuchâtel Switzerland 4208 401-500
19 University of Tulsa US 4682 501-600
20 Bond University Australia 3201 501-600

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