According to the rankings from Times Higher Education, which judged universities under 50 years old across 48 countries, the Scuola Sant'Anna in Pisa is the ninth best university in the world.
“I'm very happy with the news,” the university's rector, Pierdomenico Perata, told The Local. “We were delighted to find out we had improved our position from ninth place last year.”
He credited the institution's good performance with “30 years of hard work”, and said it was proof that staff have made the right decisions both in hiring staff and selecting fields of study.
“Though we're active in many different fields, including law, engineering, medicine, agriculture, and political sciences, we focus on specific topics within these fields,” Perata explained. “For example, in engineering, we only focus on robotics and communications, and in medical sciences we only study cardiology.”
“Thirty years ago, robotics was a very small research field and far from cutting edge – but now it's important worldwide, so that was a good decision.
Rector Pierdomenico Perata.
“We have a large group of scientists working on it here, who for example have developed artificial hands which can feel and touch textures, and service robotics which can collect city rubbish for example; these things have a great impact on people.”
With many traditional university rankings dominated by ancient British and American institutions, the list of so-called 'millennial' universities is much more international.
Italy was the sixth most represented country with ten schools making the list. Though Italy's top ten was mainly made up of institutions in the north of the country, there were two entries located south of Rome: the University of Calabria at 51st place worldwide, and the University of Salerno, ranked 71st.
Seven out of the ten were aged under 35 years, a “promising sign” that the country's standing in the rankings would likely improve in the coming years, according to Phil Baty, the study's editor.
However, both the study and Perata from Scuola Sant'Anna pointed out that Italy's higher education sector faces challenges if it is to continue rising up global rankings.
Italy has slashed university funding by 20 percent over the past five years, allocating a far lower than average share of its GDP to higher education.
“Funding is a major problem, and Italy is behind other countries in this,” said Perata. In Germany for example, which claimed 11 places in the study, higher education funding has been significantly increased over the last ten years.
“We've seen that very good students tend to go overseas,” Perata added. “Many of our students go on to study abroad after finishing here, which isn't a problem as long as the flux is compensated by international students coming in.”
The top ten young universities in Italy
1. Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (9)
2. Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (42)
3. University of Calabria (51)
4. University of Milan-Bicocca (55)
5. University of Salerno (71st)
6. University of Rome III (=81st)
7. Verona University (=81st)
8. University of Rome II – Tor Vergata (=92)
9. University of Bergamo (94)
10. University of Brescia (95)