Lead­ing Asian uni­ver­si­ties fall back in arts and hu­man­i­ties

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Asian uni­ver­si­ties’ per­for­mance in arts and hu­man­i­ties dis­ci­plines is wan­ing, ac­cord­ing to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion’s lat­est rank­ing – a trend that a lead­ing Asian scholar has warned will be “hard to re­verse”.

Sev­eral flag­ship uni­ver­si­ties in the con­ti­nent de­clined in THE’s lat­est arts and hu­man­i­ties sub­ject rank­ing, pub­lished on 31 Oc­to­ber.

Pek­ing Univer­sity, Asia’s top rep­re­sen­ta­tive, fell six places to joint 23rd, largely ow­ing to a de­cline in its in­dus­try in­come score, as well as lower scores for teach­ing and re­search.

The Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore, Ts­inghua Univer­sity and the uni­ver­si­ties of Hong Kong and Tokyo also each dropped be­tween one and three places, while most in­sti­tu­tions in South Korea moved back­wards.

Asia’s de­cline oc­curs as some lead­ing Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties make gains.

Three con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties now fea­ture in the top 20 of the rank­ing for the first time un­der the cur­rent method­ol­ogy (since 2011), af­ter LMU Mu­nich rose five places to 16th and Paris Sciences et Let­tres – PSL Re­search Univer­sity Paris jumped to 17th from 32nd.

Sev­eral UK in­sti­tu­tions have also risen: the uni­ver­si­ties of Ox­ford, Cam­bridge and Ed­in­burgh have all made progress, while the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics fea­tures for the first time at 27th place.

The re­sults were pub­lished af­ter a China ex­pert called for the coun­try to re­turn to “plu­ral­is­tic” ed­u­ca­tion, fo­cus­ing not just on the sciences but also the hu­man­i­ties.

Writ­ing in the South China Morn­ing Post, Peter Chang, se­nior lec­turer at the In­sti­tute of China Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Malaya, says: “Chi­nese sci­en­tists have en­gi­neered phe­nom­e­nal ma­te­rial up­lift. Yet, in mat­ters of the soul, the tech­nocrats are found want­ing.

“Here is where the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties should step for­ward, fill the void and bring about more bal­anced progress.”

But Ger­ard Postiglione, hon­orary pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, was scep­ti­cal over whether Asia would eas­ily catch up in arts and hu­man­i­ties fields.

“The strength­en­ing of the [sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics] fields among Asian uni­ver­si­ties has be­come salient but to the detri­ment of the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties,” he said. “Like cli­mate change, it will not be an easy trend to re­verse.”

Si­mon Mar­gin­son, pro­fes­sor of higher ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford, was more op­ti­mistic.

While the re­search dom­i­nance of phys­i­cal sci­ence STEM dis­ci­plines is “a fea­ture of the East Asian model of the elite univer­sity”, there are ex­cep­tions, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to lan­guages, he said.

“Pek­ing, Fu­dan and Nan­jing uni­ver­si­ties in China are rel­a­tively strong across the board, when com­pared with many more STEM-dom­i­nated in­sti­tu­tions. Sev­eral Hong Kong uni­ver­si­ties are ex­cel­lent con­trib­u­tors to the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties and are stronger in the global and in­ter­cul­tural as­pects of the SSH dis­ci­plines than most ranked uni­ver­si­ties,” he said.

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