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Hong Kong and Switzerland are recommended by the Times Higher Education (THE) for prospective students looking for the “most international environments” to study. The City University of Hong Kong, a former polytechnic university, tops this ranking. Together with Hong Kong University (second) and The Chinese University of Hong Kong (fifth), the two flagship universities of the former British colony that have retained English as the medium of teaching and research, Hong Kong grabbed three out of the top five spots in this ranking. Also ranked among the top five are École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (third) and ETH Zurich (third) from Switzerland which borders five countries (France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein) in Europe.
Using the international student score, international staff score, international co-authorship score and international reputation metrics collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020, the Most International Universities in the World ranking is supposed to reflect the “ability of a university to attract undergraduates, postgraduates and faculty from all over the planet”. The international indictors of the THE methodology, however, do not differentiate international students/staff from just-across-the-border and those from other parts of the planet. The international student indicator also does not make a distinction between degree-seeking international students (degree mobility) and exchange students (credit mobility), while the numbers of exchange students from some universities suggest that there is no defined minimum period of mobility in the head counts or mobility counts used in the ranking.
One may argue that the types of international students do not make a difference in the international environments for study. However, the imprecisions in the counts may create false expectations from prospective students who may find themselves enrolled later in a university with “international” students largely from the region or even from the same country as in the case of the large proportion of Chinese mainland students counted as “non-local/international students” in Hong Kong institutions. An open data policy would be the next step to bring further transparency and value to the THE Rankings methodology.