ASIA: Hong Kong and Japan top rankings

Universities in Hong Kong and Japan dominate the upper echelons of the QS Asian university rankings released last Thursday, with universities in Singapore and South Korea also making a strong showing in the top 20. But mainland China's universities have not performed as well as expected in the regional comparison.

The 2010 Asian rankings drawn up by QS (Quacquarelli Symonds), which also issues annual world university rankings, show the most economically developed countries of Asia also have the region's top universities.

Despite rising numbers of citations by top Chinese universities such as Peking and Tsinghua, they came 12th and 16th in this year's table respectively. Hong Kong's more international outlook meant several of its universities outperformed the best of Japan, China and South Korea.

The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Chinese University of Hong Kong took first, second and fourth places respectively.

Meanwhile, Japanese universities, with Tokyo highest at 5th place, occupied 57 of the top 200 and five of the top 10 places in this year's table, only the second time QS has produced Asian rankings since the inaugural Asian rankings last year.

"The Japanese and Hong Kong universities have been investing a lot in faculty and in improving their international profile, and that has fed through into the rankings," said QS Managing Director Nunzio Quacquarelli.

National University of Singapore's showing at third place was underpinned by a drive to internationalise, according to QS. Strong academic peer recognition also benefited NUS as well as 15 South Korean universities and seven Indian Institutes of Technology placed in the top 100.

QS researcher John O'Leary said: "The rise of Chinese universities is not much in evidence in this table. Although there are Chinese universities in the top 15, the Chinese higher education system as a whole is some way behind the Japanese.

"China's huge higher education system is not an advantage in rankings. It is going to take a while for government investment to have an impact. In smaller countries it is possible reforms can have an impact across all universities and come through within a short space of time such as in Hong Kong and Singapore."

Quacquarelli said that in larger countries there were more differences between universities but governments were beginning to focus on small groups of elite universities. He predicted the elite universities, particularly in China, would rise in future Asian rankings.

"We would expect the Chinese universities to improve steadily in the next few years with their massive investment in infrastructure, more autonomy and opening up to partner universities through exchange programmes," he said.

Top Indian institutions were also likely to rise through the ranks: "I think their standards of quality are very high as more companies seek to employ their graduates," Quacquarelli said.

But there were no universities in the top 200 from Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos, and just three in the top 100 from Thailand, two from Indonesia and one from the Philippines.

Universities in Asia were improving faster than institutions in the rest of the world, including in citation counts, and investing in faculty, Quacquarelli said. He pointed to a "pan-Asian trend to invest more in their higher education institutions and establish centres of excellence".

The QS Asian rankings do not simply extract the Asian institutions from the annual QS World University Rankings but employ slightly different criteria.

These include review by peer academics in the region, accounting for as much as 40% of the total measure, review by employers in the region, accounting for 10%, student/faculty ratio, 20% of the total, and citations per paper, as well as productivity in publishing papers. International students and staff amount to another 10%.

"The chief difference between the Asian rankings and the world rankings is that there are two bibliometric measures (of citations) and that's mainly to give credit to research in languages other than English," said O'Leary.

One of the criticisms of past QS-THE World Rankings was that they relied too heavily on publications in English.

The Asian table also differs from the better-known international rankings in gauging employer reaction with a questionnaire sent out to major companies recruiting within Asia. The aim is to assess the employability of a particular university's graduates.

Richard Holmes*, a lecturer at Universiti Technologi MARA in Malaysia and a commentator on global rankings, including those for Asia, said such rankings were open to manipulation.

"You can get a short-term boost fairly quickly by recruiting staff and students internationally," Holmes told University World News. "Increasing publications take much longer to give a university a boost, as does increasing the staff-student ratio. But many universities are doing things like this to improve their positions."

* A table listing the top 200 Asian universities is available here