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Aalto University gains inauspicious world ranking, says better result a matter of time

The University of Helsinki came out best in Finland in the renowned Shanghai ranking of worldwide universities released on Saturday – the 67th rated university in the world. Meanwhile, Aalto University fell far short of the peak, gaining an inauspicious ranking somewhere between 400th and 500th place. However, the university's leaders claim it partly loses out because weighting is given to life sciences – areas of study that are not taught at Aalto.

Aalto University. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

The 2015 results of the world-renowned Academic Ranking of World Universities was unveiled on the weekend in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China's.

The University of Helsinki had a ranking of 67th -- an improvement on last year's position of 73rd. Meanwhile, Aalto University achieved roughly the same placing as last year, coming in somewhere between 400th and 500th in the list.

Aalto University’s Provost, Deputy Rector Ilkka Niemelä says that the Shanghai-lists criteria includes, amongst other factors, Nobel Prizes and scientific articles. According to him, this emphasis means that universities that prioritise medical and life sciences are more likely to gain kudos, meanwhile Aalto offers education in engineering sciences, business and the arts.

The Deputy Rector is keen to give other reasons for the university’s failure to distinguish itself in the Shanghai index.

“On the other hand, rankings are such that they are quite retrospective,” suggests Niemelä. “These results come from years ago.”

Niemelä also points out that the difference between individual universities is quite small once you get past the top 100 institutions in the listing.

Aalto's results better in own sectors

The Shanghai ranking compares universities not only in general, but also at a sectoral level.

“In these important areas we’re doing quite well,” says Niemelä. “We’re ranked between 150th-200th in the comparison in terms of technical sciences, and in economics we’re between 100th-150th.”

The Provost points out that other Finnish universities do not rank amongst the top 500 at all in these areas.

According to Ilkka Niemelä, the University of Helsinki gained its relatively distinguished position because, amongst other reasons,  the university possesses strong expertise in the life sciences, medicine and the natural sciences. The comparison paints the University of Helsinki in a particularly good light in those fields.

One third of professors foreign

Looking on the bright side, Niemelä believes that Aalto University will improve its ranking in coming years. He says that top foreign researchers are being draw to the institution and that the institution's branding and interesting subject combinations have increased its pulling power -- especially for international academics.

“Of our applications for professorship over two-thirds are from foreigners,” says Niemelä.

He adds that around 30 percent of new professors are international top researchers.

The university hopes that this will lead to increased recognition in coming years.

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