Japan overtakes UK in THE global rankings, China rises

United States universities continue to dominate the Times Higher Education or THE World University Rankings this year but are mostly static or in decline; while Japan overtakes the United Kingdom as the second most-represented nation and China continues to march up the rankings.

With 103 universities represented – up from 89 last year – Japan secures its largest presence ever, and overtakes the UK for the first time.

The UK will take consolation from landing the top two spots, with the University of Oxford top for a third year and the University of Cambridge retaining second place.

China is the fourth most represented nation and has a new number one university, Tsinghua University, which is also the best ranked institution in Asia.

Despite the US’s domination, the majority of US institutions stagnate or decline in the ranking as global competition intensifies. Stanford University is the US’s top performer in third place and Yale University re-enters the top 10 – but the California Institute of Technology slips again.

The US takes seven of the top 10 spots, with Stanford followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University and Yale. The UK’s Imperial College London is ninth, followed by the University of Chicago.

The US takes 15 of the top 20, with Switzerland’s ETH Zurich at 11th and UCL from the UK making up the other non-US institution.

But overall, according to Ellie Bothwell, editor of global rankings at THE, the US’s position could be described as “stagnant, or in modest gradual decline”.

“Its institutions operate in increasingly difficult terrain. Public universities are still reeling from state funding cuts in the wake of the global recession and many institutions are faced with declines in international students owing to tightened immigration policies. Combined with mounting global competition, these challenging policies could see America’s higher education power status further weaken.”

Meanwhile, China continues its relentless rise in the rankings. Tsinghua University is the highest climber in the top 30, leaping eight places to 22nd, and becoming Asia’s best ranked institution, overtaking the National University of Singapore (23rd). It also leaves New York University (27th) and London School of Economics and Political Science (26th) in its wake and surpasses Princeton, Yale and MIT for research.

Mainland China has 72 universities included, up from 63 last year. It also retains seven institutions in the elite top 200, and sees several strong performers this year, including Zhejiang University, which climbed a phenomenal 76 places to 101st, and new entrant Shenzen’s Southern University of Science and Technology entering in the top 350.

Phil Baty, THE’s editorial director of the global rankings, said: “Globally, as China and other emerging nations position universities at the heart of national economic growth strategies, they could well challenge the continued Anglo-American dominance of the rankings in future years.”

He said China’s formula for success – strengthening its international outlook and global partnerships, sustaining heavy investment in lead institutions, and an intense focus on attracting and retaining the best global talent – is boosting its reputation and influence worldwide, and other emerging nations have begun to emulate it.

By contrast, traditional power regions such as the US, Europe and Australia are experiencing the effects of deepening cuts and creeping isolationism.

“Maintaining current standards of excellence on those terms is unsustainable, and – amid mounting global competition – we again see signs of stagnation and modest decline among established strongholds, with individual successes the exception,” he said.

“As East Asian universities continue to rise up the ranks, the future of the old elite will depend on strong investment, and positive policies that allow universities to attract and retain the very best international talent.”

India increases its presence again, claiming 49 places this year, up from 42 – the fifth best-represented nation.

Mixed picture for Europe

It is a mixed picture for Europe, with the UK taking the top two places, but ETH Zurich slipping out of the top 10, while the Netherlands has a new top performer and France’s top two are both recent mergers – with Sorbonne University the highest ranked newcomer.

Seven European institutions are represented in the 2019 top 30, the same as last year, and institutions from Europe occupy almost half the top 200.

The UK (with 98 institutions), Germany (with 47), Italy (43), Spain (38) and France (34) are the most-represented European countries in the ranking, while the UK (29), Germany (23) and the Netherlands (12) are the most-represented European countries in the top 200.

But Bothwell warns that a shift in the political climate across the continent could damage many of its higher education systems in future years.

“Universities in the UK, and Europe as a whole, will lose out if pan-European mobility and research collaborations are restricted as a result of Brexit, while the rise in far-right populism is already impacting universities’ academic freedom in countries such as Hungary,” she says. “These factors combined with stiff competition from Asia will put European universities under a great deal of pressure over the coming 12 months.”

The 2019 table lists more than 1,250 higher education institutions globally, up from just over 1,100 last year, and features 86 countries, up from 81.

Among the most impressive rises in the top 100 was Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, up 31 places from joint 72nd to 41st after entering the rankings for the first time last year, followed by South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University, which jumped 29 places from joint 111th to joint 82nd; Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany, which rose 36 places from joint 126th to joint 90th alongside the University of Zurich, Switzerland, which itself leapt 46 places from 136th to joint 90th.

The University of Baghdad becomes Iraq’s first entrant in the table’s 15-year history, joining the global top 801-1,000 band. The University of the West Indies becomes Jamaica’s first entrant – joining the table in the 501-600 banding, with a strong international outlook. Kazakhstan, Nepal and Tanzania also join the table for the first time this year, while Serbia re-enters following a one-year absence.

Bangladesh is the only country to drop from the 2019 table, as the University of Dhaka did not submit data.

The THE World University Rankings says it judges research-intensive universities across each of their core missions: teaching (the learning environment); research (volume, income and reputation); international outlook (staff, students and research); citations (research influence); and industry income (knowledge transfer). It uses 13 performance indicators and is independently audited by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.