Asia Moving Up World University League Tables

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/23/2009 07:15:00 PM
A while ago, I featured a World Bank publication concerning how to create institutions of higher learning. While there are still strenuous debates about whether creating universities with high international standing should be a goal for developing countries, there is no doubt that many Asian ones have made significant strides in competing with the best of the best in the world. Singapore has always been notable in that its highly educated workforce has been the envy of the region if not the world in propelling development via "human capital."

There is, however, a rapidly rising newcomer to the scene that you all know of - China. Aside from placing three universities in the Times Higher Education Top 100 (if you include Hong Kong, that is), the PRC has made it an objective to become a destination for students--an importer of them instead of an exporter. Talk about the only area where the Chinese are keen on more imports save for Western "dual use" technologies! [also the previous post on that point] While I still have some reservations about the Times' methodology, there is no doubting the expenditures Asian countries are putting into education for both national development and to attract fee-paying foreign students. Interesting stuff; perhaps the changing balance of educational prestige will help signal the advent of the long-awaited Pacific century:
The top universities of the Asia Pacific region – Australian National and Tokyo - have been prominent in these rankings since they were first released in 2004. This year they are in 17th and 22nd place respectively, a rough level from which they have varied little between the years.

The real story about Asian universities, however, concerns the lower reaches of the rankings. In September 2009, the European Union warned that India and China are likely to become the world’s leading research powers by 2025. The World University Rankings suggest that these, and other Asian nations, are already building university systems to support this transition.

Japan’s postwar rise to economic success, based on innovation and exports, has long been the model for other Asia Pacific nations. In the 2009 World University Rankings we find 11 Japanese universities, a total which is unlikely to grow substantially.

Many other Asian universities now have plans to enter these rankings. China has six universities ranked this year and there are five more in Hong Kong, which we count as a separate entity while it retains its status as a Special Administrative Zone of China. At the moment, China’s top two institutions, Peking and Tsinghua, are at 49 and 52 in the rankings, while its other universities are more modestly ranked. By contrast, the University of Hong Kong is in 24th position, making it an altogether more serious world player.

China is now expanding its entire education system rapidly, from primary schools to research centres. It intends to become an importer rather than an exporter of students, threatening the business plans of many universities around the world that depend on Chinese students. In our work on these rankings, we have encountered big increases in the amount of research being published by Chinese academics. Not all of it is world class, but over time it is likely to improve, as is teaching quality in Chinese universities. There is certainly a stark contrast between China’s placing here and the very modest showing by India. No mainstream Indian universities appear in our top 200. As in 2008, India is represented by only two of the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Other Asian nations, lacking the sheer scale of China, seem to be taking a more tactical and less brute-force approach to expansion. South Korea has had a recent spurt of high-technology growth which is reflected in the success of its universities in these rankings. Seoul National has long been a major world institution. It is joined this year by Yonsei, a major private university. Perhaps more importantly, two science and technology-based institutions in Korea, KAIST and Postech, have risen sharply in position this year. This is a common theme across Asia, with higher places for Tokyo Institute of Technology and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Many other Asian nations, such as Taiwan, regard it as a priority to have at least one university in the THE – QS World University Rankings. (National Taiwan University is up 29 places this year to 95). For this reason, there will be enthusiasm in Malaysia over the reappearance of the University of Malaysia at place number 180. But Malaysia still lags far behind its smaller neighbour Singapore, which has made high technology, such as nanotechnology and robotics, a national priority. Heavy investment in these areas is part of the reason why the University of Singapore is a world leader, 30th in our rankings, and Nanyang Technological University also shows well at 73.
Now, if only the writer mentioned my alma mater, things would be absolutely hunky-dory.