U.S. starts to lose its aca­demic rep­u­ta­tion

Fund­ing has Asian uni­ver­si­ties ris­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

U.S. and U.K. uni­ver­si­ties still sit at the head of the class in world higher ed­u­ca­tion, but emerg­ing schools in Asia and else­where threaten to shift the global bal­ance of aca­demic power, a ma­jor study shows.

In its an­nual World Rep­u­ta­tion Rank­ings, the London-based Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion mag­a­zine gives Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions seven of the top 10 spots, with Har­vard Univer­sity and the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy com­ing in first and sec­ond, re­spec­tively. Stan­ford Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, are also in the top five with Bri­tain’s Cam­bridge and Ox­ford uni­ver­si­ties

tak­ing the third and sixth slots.

But the sur­vey — com­piled from writ­ten re­sponses by more than 17,000 pub­lished aca­demics who were asked to rank in­sti­tu­tions on their rep­u­ta­tions only — shows that Ja­pan, China, Sin­ga­pore and other na­tions are mak­ing big gains and ap­pear poised to com­pete with their Western peers for ed­u­ca­tional pres­tige.

Ja­pan’s Univer­sity of Tokyo took the eighth spot on the list, as it did in the 2011 rank­ings, while two of China’s top schools rose in the poll since last year’s in­au­gu­ral ap­pear­ance. Ts­inghua Univer­sity shot up five spots, from 35th to 30th, and Pek­ing Univer­sity rose from 43rd to 38th.

Other East Asian uni­ver­si­ties also are mak­ing names for them­selves. The Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore climbed from 27th to 23rd, and the Univer­sity of Hong Kong came in 39th. Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity is tied for 61st, jump­ing 20 spots since last year.

“The U.S. has the most highly re­garded uni­ver­si­ties in the world by a long way. . . . No other coun­try comes near it,” said Phil Baty, ed­i­tor of the Times’ rank­ings.

“But,” he cau­tioned, “there is ab­so­lutely no room for com­pla­cency. A large num­ber of U.S. in­sti­tu­tions have seen their stand­ing in the ta­ble slip, with some of the great public in­sti­tu­tions tak­ing sig­nif­i­cant hits as the world watches their public fund­ing be­ing slashed. Mean­while, the top Asian uni­ver­si­ties, which have seen very healthy lev­els of in­vest­ment from their gov­ern­ments, have al­most all seen an in­crease in their rep­u­ta­tional stand­ing. There are clear signs of the start of a power shift from West to East.”

De­spite the loom­ing changes, Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties still dom­i­nate the list.

Of the top 100 schools, 44 are in the U.S., in­clud­ing Prince­ton Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les and Yale Univer­sity, which round out the top 10. The U.K. boasts 10 of the top 100, while Ja­pan and the Nether­lands each have five, and Ger­many, Australia and France each have four, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey.

The Mus­lim Mid­dle East has one school in the top 100 — Turkey’s Mid­dle East Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity, which came in tied for 91st. Two Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions, the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Univer­sity, made the list, both in the bot­tom 40. South Amer­ica is rep­re­sented only by Brazil’s Univer­sity of Sao Paulo, tied for 61st.

While the qual­i­ties of a univer­sity’s fac­ulty and re­search are key com­po­nents in es­tab­lish­ing a world­class rep­u­ta­tion, there is also “a cer­tain amount of luck in­volved,” said Robert A. Se­vier, a for­mer Ohio State Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and now the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of strat­egy at Sta­mats, a lead­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket­ing firm.

Top uni­ver­si­ties, he said, tend to be in or near ma­jor met­ro­pol­i­tan mar­kets, giv­ing them more ac­cess to pub­lic­ity than their ru­ral coun­ter­parts.

“You have to get pub­lic­ity for do­ing great things. Be­ing great with­out the world know­ing it is good, but be­ing good and hav­ing the world know about it — that’s a great thing,” he said Wed­nes­day. “It’s not just aca­demic rep­u­ta­tion. Some of it is just go­ing to be name recog­ni­tion.”

One of the most ef­fec­tive ways to gain house­hold name sta­tus, Mr. Se­vier said, is to pro­duce alumni who go on to po­si­tions of power or promi­nence, and the top schools on the Times’ list have had more than their fair share of fa­mous stu­dents.

Pres­i­dent Obama, Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg, Mi­crosoft chief Bill Gates and li­tany of oth­ers stud­ied at Har­vard. Ox­ford counts among its ranks more than a dozen Bri­tish prime min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Mar­garet Thatcher, in­cum­bent David Cameron and Tony Blair. Cam­bridge churned out Fran­cis Ba­con, Charles Dar­win, Jane Goodall and other re­searchers, along with ac­tors Ian Mckel­lan, John Cleese and Hugh Lau­rie.

Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Ben S. Ber­nanke, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and as­tro­naut Buzz Aldrin, among oth­ers, hit the books at MIT. The Univer­sity of Tokyo has pro­duced more than a dozen Ja­panese prime min­is­ters and seven No­bel Prize re­cip­i­ents.

“You look at what those alumni are do­ing. Their alumni al­ways go on to do great things,” Mr. Se­vier said of the world’s most rep­utable in­sti­tu­tions.

But in­creas­ing global com­pe­ti­tion means that name recog­ni­tion alone won’t guar­an­tee schools a spot at the front of the pack. Har­vard, Yale and Stan­ford no longer are com­pet­ing only with one an­other for stu­dents and pro­fes­sors, but with uni­ver­si­ties half a world away.

“While rep­u­ta­tions can take many years, even cen­turies to build . . . uni­ver­si­ties can­not sit back and rely on their his­tory,” Mr. Baty said. “New forces are emerg­ing and signs of de­clin­ing per­for­mance among the es­tab­lish­ment are quickly iden­ti­fied, shared and spread. Es­tab­lished rep­u­ta­tions can be highly vul­ner­a­ble.”

Cul­tural fac­tors are also im­por­tant. In the past 100 years, the spread of English also has af­fected the world’s academe. For ex­am­ple, it was once the cus­tom for sci­en­tific pa­pers to be pub­lished in Ger­man; they now are al­most al­ways in English, re­gard­less of the re­searchers’ na­tion­al­i­ties.

Mr. Se­vier noted that only one of the top 10 uni­ver­si­ties (Tokyo) is in a coun­try where English is not spo­ken.

“They tend to be in for­mer Bri­tish colonies,” Mr. Se­vier said of top uni­ver­si­ties. “The Bri­tish ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem was trans­ported dur­ing their col­o­niza­tion of the world.”

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