When contemplating further education, it can feel like your whole future hinges on where you go. While you’re likely to have attended a college close to home, there’s a whole world of options out there when it comes to university, so don’t close your mind to some of the very best institutions just because they’re a little further afield.
If you’ve got the grades, an international mind-set and the determination to study in a place far from home, take a look at this compilation of the world’s finest universities. The price tags may be a tad hefty, but that shouldn’t discourage applications when a world-class education and once-in-a-lifetime experience are the ultimate reward.
To get to the first university on the list, it’s just a hop and a skip across the channel into Belgium, where less than 20 miles east of the capital of Brussels is the city of Leuven which contains KU Leuven.
Founded in 1425, the University of Leuven has been a centre of learning for almost six centuries and is Belgium’s largest and highest-ranked university. As a leading European research university and co-founder of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), KU Leuven’s programmes are supported by high-quality interdisciplinary research carried out at the university and its internationally acclaimed hospitals. Boasting a central location in the heart of Europe, KU Leuven offers a truly international experience, high-quality education, world-class research, and cutting-edge innovation.
Dutch is the main language used throughout KU Leuven, but there are a range of bachelor’s and Master’s programmes taught in English.
As the campus is effectively bonded to the surrounding city, there is a high degree of synergy between the two bodies and both local and international students from across the globe are given a warm welcome.
Heading southeast into mainland Europe is the next entry on the list, Germany’s Heidelberg University. Established in 1386, the University is the oldest and most prestigious in Germany and boasts an impressive history of scientific research; notable figures associated with the University include Robert Bunsen, the creator of the eponymous burner, and the Russian Dmitri Mendeleev, best known for his work in establishing the modern periodic table.
The university’s motto, “Semper apertus” or “always open” reflects its past and present attitude as a citadel of toleration, for both prospective students and the potentially ground-breaking theories they may conjure.
Applicants are required to have a very good knowledge of the German language in order to ‘fit in’ at the University, but there are nonetheless a range of courses that are taught in English alongside German.
The city of Heidelberg is a quaint one, located right on the edge of the Neckar River. It has repeatedly ranked highly on residential satisfaction surveys and additionally has a strong sense of community. Every year the city hosts countless festivals and community events, including festivals for drama, classical music and photography.
The last of the European universities on the list is also the furthest away from the UK – Switzerland’s ETH Zurich. With a more recent establishment date of 1855, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has still been quick to make its mark on the world of technology and physics. Among the university’s alumni are Physics Nobel Prize winners Albert Einstein and Wilhelm Rontgen.
The ethos of ETH Zurich is firmly outward facing in its nature, with a strong focus being placed on the cooperative nature of societal interaction. The institution is a haven for the compassionate creative, with a relentless pursuit of solutions to the world’s most pressing social, medical and technological problems driving a bulk of the University’s research.
As with the most of the other institutions on this list, studying at ETH Zurich requires a capable grasp of the native language, which in this case is German. There are a number of exceptions to the rule, however: in some Bachelor degree programmes, after a first year of German the taught language may switch to English, while if you wish to take a Master’s degree programme, the entirety of the course may take place in English.
The surrounding city of Zurich is located a relatively short distance from the spectacular alpine mountain range and boasts one of the highest quality of life indexes in the world. This comes at a price, unfortunately, as Zurich is also one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Across the North Atlantic, but still closer to the UK than some later institutions, is the great bastion of American intellectualism and advancement, Harvard University. Harvard lies within the Greater Boston area in the state of Massachusetts, on the East Coast.
In a recurrent trend with top national universities, Harvard is the oldest of its kind in the US, having been founded in 1636. Its alumni hall of fame includes US Presidents, actors and a pair of tech billionaires, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
In many ways, Harvard is the pinnacle of the University experience, although getting in is by no means easy; of almost 40,000 applicants a year, only around 2,000 typically gain the coveted places. Those that do make the grade can expect a premium education that is sure to set them on the path of success for the future.
Naturally, Harvard shouldn’t hold any language barriers whatsoever to a native English speaker and additionally, the University offers financial support to international students who would otherwise be unable to make the journey to the US.
Boston is a veritable treasure trove for history or baseball buffs, as it is soaked through with Revolutionary War history and hosts the Red Sox baseball team at Fenway Park stadium.
Heading off to Asia now, we first reach the national academic institution of China, Peking University (PKU). The name is something of a throwback to historic China, as Peking is now more commonly known as the capital of Beijing.
Established in 1898, PKU is among the oldest of China’s universities. Attendees of note include former US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Robin Li, the inventor of Baidu, the ‘Chinese Google’.
PKU is renowned across China for its prominence in a wide range of fields, such as maths, computer science and clinical medicine, to name but a few. The University regularly welcomes international students from across the globe and after graduation, alumni consistently rank highly on employability surveys.
The language requirements are undeniably steep with PKU for a strictly English speaker, as learning Mandarin is assuredly a requirement for making any kind of progress within your programme of choice. While fairly thin on the ground, some of PKU’s Master’s Degree courses are taught in English.
As the capital of China, Beijing is a dynamic and bustling city, which is as industrious as it is populous. The air quality is likely to be a shock to visitors, even when compared to London, but underneath the haze is a city with a rich past of intrigue and grandeur, exemplified by the imperial palace known as the Forbidden City.
Image copyright: Sira Anamwong
Crossing the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, you get to the next Asian entry, Japan’s University of Tokyo (Todai). This prestigious institution was founded in 1877 and counts ‘Commoner Prime Minister’ Hara Takashi and prolific inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu among its famous alumni, as well as countless politicians, authors and economists.
Todai’s goal is to be the very best in the world for unifying humanity in the face of global threats, such as resource shortages, environmental protection and financial crises. Described as fusing Western cultures with Eastern ones, the University has a solid commitment to linking the academic and practical aspects of Tokyo together in harmony so that joint progress is made on key issues affecting both sides.
Through a series of dedicated courses and policy measures, it is not absolutely required to learn Japanese if taking a route of study entirely in English, although given the wild divergence between the Japanese language and alphabet and the English ones, picking up as much Japanese as possible is strongly recommended.
While the University is surrounded by the ever-busy city, there are still sites of peace and tranquillity among the mass industrialisation, such as parks and museums for a wide range of mediums. Outside of the more spiritual pursuits, there are still the more commercial aspects of Tokyo to be considered, such as the numerous shops and restaurants.
Penultimately, heading in a beeline southwest from Japan, you get to the island of Pulau Ujong, which is the eponymously named capital city of Singapore. In the heart of the city lies the National University of Singapore (NUS).
While the youngest university on the list with a founding data of 1905, NUS has still been quick to produce countless high-calibre business and political leaders, among others. Included in this list of luminaries are Singaporean Presidents SR Nathan and Tony Tan, as well as Hyflux visionary Olivia Lum.
Considered to be one of the best higher education institutions in all of Asia, NUS excels in the fields of engineering, both civil, structural and technological. It draws on a large pool of international students every year, for a unique reason. As a notable exception to the other Asian entries on the list, a vast majority of teaching and dialogue in general in Singapore is conducted in English, so there are far less barriers to a plain or secondary English speakers than other institutions.
For such a small city and island (relatively speaking), Singapore has benefited greatly from intense economic development and still has room left for easy-to-access rainforests and nature reserves. The culture is described as a blend of Asian and international, with traditions and customs flowing along with the steady streams of visitors through the many sights and sounds that ‘The Little Red Dot’ has to offer.
Last and furthest from the UK, but certainly not least on the list, is Australia’s University of Melbourne.
Often just abbreviated to ‘Melbourne’, the university was founded in 1853 and boasts an impressive range of alumni across its history. Graduates of note include author Germaine Greer, WW1 tactician John Monash and former first female Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard.
The University is considered the very top in all of Australia in terms of subject rankings, and additionally places highly on the global scale for Arts & Humanities and Clinical, Pre-Clinical and Health studies.
Melbourne provides a wide range of hugely helpful scholarships and bursaries to prospective students that meet the criteria, with leaders in the field providing tuition for many of the majors on offer.
As a former British colony, Australia should hold no barriers whatsoever to a native English speaker, though it might be worth reading up on the nuances of Australian English so that you don’t end up committing a faux pas.
The tombstone-shaped campus of the University is located near to the Melbourne’s port and, as well as having very high temperatures compared to the UK, the city is welcoming to outsiders and contains parks, stadiums and even a nearby mountain to amplify the appeal of the landscape surrounding the University of Melbourne.
There you have it, 8 of the world’s top international universities. The decision of where to study next is not usually an easy one and can take weeks or months to decide, but don’t let language differences put you off a potentially life-changing experience when there are so many tools available to assist linguistic endeavours.
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