A new report from Firetail has suggested that the higher education establishment is due for a shake up in the next decade and beyond, with recently founded, emerging universities set to take on centuries-old top universities in the world rankings.

The report says that “universities founded in the last 50 years have already become regional and global leaders,” with “more than a dozen “Young Champion” universities… in the global top 250.”

These new emerging universities, referred to in the study as “the class of 2030,” are in many cases rapidly rising up the world rankings. As reported in the research document, many are “rising an average of 100 places in the rankings every 3 years.” This has led the writers of the report to state that these universities “can and will shake up the establishment.”

The study has set out to map the trends that have accompanied this incredible rise in what used to be mid-tier universities, as well as highlighting the types of universities that are capitalizing on these trends.

One of the changes cited in the study is the fact that the percentage of people studying overseas has doubled in the past 15 years. This number, they suggest, is:

“The kind of opportunity that opens the door to entirely unexpected institutions with new business models.”

The report looked at different facets of development for universities, such as integrated planning and global, social and local development. Amongst the initiatives highlighted as being effective by “the class of 2030” emerging universities were the creation of international partnerships with other universities as well as having a strategy-driven plan that focuses on more than just meeting budget demands.

The authors also cited the role of government in shaping higher education, with emerging universities being noted for their collaboration with local governments.

Another important factor, the study notes, are the students themselves:

“Unprecedented increases in the number of university students, projected to exceed 250 million by 2025.”

With these figures in mind, one of Firetail’s notable findings was the focus on student experience in conversations with emerging universities. The research team felt that the emphasis would be more on research excellence and facilities; however, there was a real emphasis on people and culture as well as building a strong team that would lead to a satisfying student experience.

One senior leader highlighted the emerging universities’ ambitious approach:

“We will not attract 25 Nobel Prize winners, but we can attract 25 future Nobel Prize winners.”

The authors also highlighted the “academic entrepreneurs” amongst the emerging universities, with successful institutions cleverly meeting local demands. Examples include Maastricht University, which focused on medicine following a national staff shortage and the National University of Singapore, whose Medicine Department specialised in cancers that are unusually common in Asia.

According to Firetail, the world of higher education undergoes constant innovation. Despite perceptions that well-known institutions are always going to be world leaders, there is a real feeling that emerging trends, affected by new technologies and globalization, will re-organize the establishment in coming decades.

Firetail’s research has shown that “the leaders of fast-growing universities” are intimately aware of global shifts in the higher education landscape and are “busy planning how best to exploit them.” This could come at the cost of universities that have occupied top spots in university rankings for as long as memory serves. The study is summarised succinctly with the words, “Establishment be warned!”