Why these universities were dubbed 'the most international in the world'
What makes a university truly international? Source: Shutterstock

What exactly is an international university? Most universities are global by nature, driven by the enrolment of international students, the hiring of overseas faculty, and research conducted on issues that impact the global community as a whole.

Times Higher Education (THE) recently compiled a list of the world’s most international universities based on international student score, international staff score, international co-authorship score and international reputation metrics collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019.

Universities that have a “high proportion of international students and staff, collaborate on research with scholars from across the world and have a strong global reputation to match,” were considered the most international.

Why is internationalisation so important in the higher education context?

According to the article, “research suggests that diverse communities of students improve the teaching and learning experience while opportunities for students to spend time abroad better prepare them to become global citizens.”

Schools with a large international focus develop students who have a global outlook and can adapt to many different working environments.

While some may believe that the most international universities are located in countries that are popular study abroad destinations, like the US, UK and Australia, Times Higher Education found that the top four are actually in Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Here are the top four most international universities in the world, and what makes them deserve that title.

1. University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s No.1 university has over 20,000 students, and out of those, approximately 8,000 are international students.

THE reported, “The University of Hong Kong has embarked on a mission to become “Asia’s Global University”, which includes the goal of 50 per cent of its undergraduates having two opportunities to study outside Hong Kong during their degree by 2019, and for all students to have this opportunity by 2022.”

Since the main teaching instruction in the school is English and the education has a broad global focus, students are prepared to become international citizens once they graduate.

Ian Holliday, Vice-President and Pro Vice-Chancellor (teaching and learning) at the University of Hong Kong, said,  “In teaching and learning, HKU aims to ensure that the student experience is among the most international available anywhere in the world. We want our students to be globally-minded independent thinkers, so our curriculum is designed to encourage critical thinking, initiative and innovation.

“We want our campus to be a dynamic and diverse environment where students can meet peers of different nationalities, from different cultures and backgrounds. We therefore recruit top students from around the world, with some 10,000 international students studying at HKU out of a student body of around 30,000.”

2. ETH Zurich

Located in Zurich, this university has more than 19,000 students from over 120 countries, and is the top university in continental Europe.

One of the school’s most famous alumni is Albert Einstein, who graduated from the university in the early 1900s.

According to THE, “Since its foundation and until the late 19th century, about half of the professors and many students came from abroad. This mix of Swiss and international thinkers is credited as one of the forces driving industrialisation and the development of national infrastructure in Switzerland.”

The aim here has always been attract and generate the talent required to sustain the thriving Swiss and global economy.

Graduates from this university are in high demand among employers, as “one year post-graduation, 75 per cent of international graduates work in Switzerland”.

Significantly contributing to Zurich’s economy, this university’s graduates are frequently employed by international companies in the area such as Google, IBM Research, Disney Research and Microsoft as well as Swiss industrial companies and other technology leaders.

This thriving ecosystem makes ETH Zurich a highly-coveted university for international students.

3. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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Another highly-ranked university in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is known as one of the fastest-growing universities in the world.

Over a third of the student body is international, while a whopping 80 percent of the faculty are from abroad.

More than a third of the student body is considered international, with at least 60 nationalities represented. About 80 percent of the faculty come from overseas.

What makes this young but rapidly-growing university international are: strong ties to global institutions and wide-ranging connections with Mainland China, championing of interdisciplinary studies, a dedication to educating well-rounded, innovative and entrepreneurial students who flourish in today’s world, a multi-cultural learning environment, and more.

For the full list of the world’s most international universities, please click here.

4. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

Known in English as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, this public research university is particularly renowned for its engineering, life sciences, and computer science programmes.

According to THE, the university has a highly international student population, with approximately half of students coming from overseas.

This school’s ambitious research projects that cross international boundaries contribute to its global mark, such as the Blue Brain Project and the Human Brain Project, which attempt to reconstruct mammalian and human brains digitally.

Eytan Levi, an international student who studied at the university, wrote on THE, “At EPFL, there are a lot of international students. As most of the bachelor’s degree is taught in French, many foreigners come from French-speaking countries: France of course, but also Morocco, Tunisia and Belgium. There are also many French expatriates who grew up in different places all around the world.

“The teaching staff are pretty diverse as well, and that is even more important because that presents us students with so many different ways of seeing things. For example, you could have a class taught by an Italian teacher and the next one could be taught by a Belgian. They might talk about the same thing, but their conclusions might be totally different.”

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