2012 Rankings Season in Full Swing

The latest QS University Rankings: Asia, published at the end of May, have underlined the rapid progress made by many of the continent’s most youthful universities.

For the second successive year, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) topped the ranking despite the fact that it was founded only in 1991. The National University of Singapore (NUS) moved up to second place, with Hong Kong University in third.

It was the striking performance of universities founded in the last 50 years that caught the eye, however. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) all joined HKUST in the top ten. City University of Hong Kong and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University featured among the top 20.

QS has published a separate ’50 Under 50’ ranking to demonstrate that the young universities’ successes were not confined to an Asian context. It shows that the Chinese University of Hong Kong, HKUST, Nanyang and KAIST are all among the top five universities in the world for their age.

Warwick University is the other member of the top five in the ’50 Under 50’ ranking, while POSTECH and City University of Hong Kong also make the top ten. Only the UK has as many universities in the top 20 as Hong Kong, both registering four.

The success of the young Asian universities reflects the huge investment in higher education by those of the continent’s governments that can afford it. China, in particular, has ploughed massive sums into its leading universities, while South Korea spent 2.6 per cent of GDP on higher education in 2008, according to Unesco. This compared with 1.6 per cent in Australia and 1.5 per cent in New Zealand.

China’s investment appears to be paying off in the latest Asian ranking, with nine of the country’s top ten universities improving on their 2011 position. Peking University has moved up seven places, overtaking the University of Tokyo for the first time en route to sixth position.

The new ranking shows three Japanese universities dropping out of the top ten, despite heavy government investment in its Global 30 programme, which is designed to promote the country’s top universities internationally. However, Tokyo and Kyoto universities remain in the top ten.

Singapore and Korea, by contrast, which have seen virtually all their leading universities move up the ranking this year.  Korea now has nine universities in the top 50, having transformed its higher education participation rates from among the lowest to the highest in the OECD in the space of a generation. Plans are in place to boost the already substantial annual R&D budget to an almost unprecedented 5 per cent of GDP.

In Singapore, a new Universities Trust pledged a further $4bn to the island state’s universities in 2010. Already its two leading universities are in the top 20 in Asia and both have forged new partnerships with top universities in the US and UK.

Other Asian countries, such as Taiwan, are beginning to make their mark on the ranking. But the continent awaits significant progress from another of its giants, India. The Indian Institutes of Technology continue to do well, with those in Mumbai, Delhi, Madras, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Roorkee and Guwahati all reaching the top 100, but only Delhi, of the comprehensive universities, has joined them this year.

A recent World Bank report on South Asian countries noted that spending on universities, both public and private, had increased in much of the region. While this growth did not lead to a corresponding increase in student enrolments, the ‘density’ of top-tier universities had increased. The Bank expects this trend to continue.

“Since the majority of countries that are home to top tier universities are either members of the OECD, are approaching the HIC  (high income county) status, or are at the high end of the upper middle income cluster, this result reflects the fact that having reached the threshold of mass tertiary education, governments can afford to prioritize investments on quality,” the report’s authors concluded. “And investments pay off, as shown by their consistent and positive association with measures of quality.”

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