Universities closest to global transportation hubs will be most successful in future

University ranking is strongly correlated with the local airport connectivity to a global complex network, with the regional economy ruled out as a confounding factor.

Universities of the future should be built on the crossroads of many global air traffic ways to ensure long term academic success – according to researchers from The Alan Turing Institute, the University of Warwick and University of Birmingham.

After considering universities’ performance measured by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and analysing their global connectivity via the air transport network using ‘connectedness data’ from 2005 to 2016, researchers found that universities closest to global transportation hubs (international airports) tend to rank higher and grow in rankings faster than those of similar ranking in remote areas.

According to the research the strongest factor for a university’s future success relies on the number of shortest connectivity paths to international airports rather than the volume of direct flight connections or number of flights itself.  The scientists also observed that levels of economic development of neighbouring areas do not correlate with universities’ success.

The research, published today in the Royal Society Open Science comes at a time when figures released by UNESCO indicate that the number of students in universities doubled between 2000 and 2014.

It is anticipated that this is set to double again by 2025, reaching 262 million. Under these circumstances, prospective students are not only looking for a place to study, but also pay particular attention to the quality of universities.

The researchers hope that the findings could help to inform real life decision-making processes concerning where the highest performing universities of the future should be established.

Author of the paper and Turing Fellow, Weisi Guo, commented:

“At The Alan Turing Institute, I am interested in understanding the embedded relationships in complex networks. The Turing is a fantastic place that enables me to learn from a variety of data science experts, and I look forward to continuing this work to better understand the causal strength of global interactions on the academic excellence of our research institutions.”


Contacts for more information:

Sophie McIvor, Head of Communications, The Alan Turing Institute:

Chizom Ekeh, Communications Officer, The Alan Turing Institute: