Summary of the 2011 QS Asian University Rankings

by John O’Leary

One frequent criticism of rankings is that only long-established universities can thrive. The latest QS Asian University Rankings™ disprove that theory once and for all.

Top of the 2011 rankings, moving up from second place last year, is the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, founded only 20 years ago. Already the youngest university in the world’s top 100, HKUST’s feat will give heart to other relatively recent foundations around the world.

The scale of HKUST’s achievement is underlined by the fact that it has overtaken its much older neighbour, Hong Kong University, which topped the ranking in its first two years of publication. The high level of productivity of its researchers proved decisive, as demonstrated by the number of published papers per member of faculty.

Tony Chan, the HKUST’s president, says on the university’s website: “Within the short span of less than two decades, HKUST has matured into a dynamic, world-class university powered by the dedicated efforts of our outstanding faculty, staff and students.” It is in the throes of an expansion programme that will broaden its research capability, as well as accommodating more students.

The National University of Singapore remains in third place, while the Tokyo Institute of Technology is the only new entrant to the top ten. The biggest rise in the top 30 has been achieved by Sungkyunkwan University, in South Korea, which has moved up from outside the top 40 to 26th place.

The QS Asian rankings differ in several respects to the world rankings published by the company. They include international exchanges and an additional bibliometric measure, as well as the number of citations per paper. The aim is to reach deeper into the continent’s higher education systems and reflect different priorities. The use of papers per member of faculty, for example, gives more recognition to research published in languages that limit the scope for widespread citation.

Nationally, the strongest performance is by Japan, which has five universities in the top ten and eight in the top 20. With 25 universities in the top 100, led by the University of Tokyo in fourth place, and 56 in the top 200, Japan’s success is a reward for considerable investment in higher education. The universities have also benefited from much greater autonomy in recent years.

Hong Kong’s continued strong showing in the Asian rankings, with four universities in the top 20 and all six in the top 50, contrasts with continuing disappointment for mainland China. Although Peking and Tsinghua universities remain in the top 20, China has only 14 universities in the top 100, making only marginal progress since last year.

The much smaller system in South Korea outperforms China at the top of the rankings. It has four institutions in the top 20, led by Seoul National University, and 16 in the top 100.

India is another giant that is yet to see its higher education ambitions fulfilled. Although five Indian Institutes of Technology appear in the top 50, the University of Delhi is the country’s only comprehensive university in the top 100, in 77th position after a drop of ten places.

Thirteen countries are represented in this year’s rankings, two more than last year since the inclusion of the University of Dhaka, in Bangladesh and of four universities in Pakistan. Although the results show excellence to be widely spread through Asia, countries such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka remain conspicuous by their absence.

The highest new entrant is Tokyo University of Science, which makes its debut in 59th place. Pakistan’s National University of Science and Technology and Taiwan’s Taipei Medical University have also come straight into the top 100.

This year, for the first time, scores are subject to the same statistical process – the application of z-scores – that is used in the world rankings and other similar exercises in other fields. The process ensures that high scores on any one indicator do not have a disproportionate effect on the overall results.

As usual in QS rankings, the reputational surveys highlight differing views of the leading universities between academics and employers. Only the National University of Singapore, Tokyo and Peking universities attracted top scores from both groups. The academics also favoured Hong Kong, Seoul National, Kyoto and Tsinghua universities.

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