Research boosting university rankings
European academics should recognize the abundant opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with China
While many have, or at least should have, noted the continued rise of Chinese universities in the global top 100 of the highly respected QS World University Rankings, perhaps far more noteworthy was the recent Nature Index publication highlighting the rapid ascent in high-quality research taking place inside the Chinese mainland’s universities and academic institutions.
The Nature Index tracks research articles that have been published in an independently selected group of 82 high-quality science journals. The index provides an extremely informative guide on the progress being made in academic research output, and at several levels — institutional, national and regional.
At the country level, China’s share of authorship in academic journals tracked by the Nature Index increased by more than 13 percent year-on-year. This year’s increase places China in second place overall in the index, with the gap narrowing behind the leader, the United States, but in front of Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.
At the institutional level, there is also good news for Chinese universities, with Beijing’s Peking University appearing in eighth place and Tsinghua University in 10th position among the top global universities, and with almost 50 institutions from China improving their ranking year-on-year.
In addition to Tsinghua and Peking, Nanjing University and the University of Science and Technology of China are also now inside the Nature Index’s top 25 academic institutions worldwide.
But pride of place among China’s rapidly rising and increasingly research-led universities and academic institutions has to go to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which continues to top a separate Nature Index ranking of government institutions, due to its prolific number of affiliated institutions and world-class researchers.
And this trend appears set to continue, with the growing number of Sino-Western collaborative research projects. Academics at European universities should pay close attention to the rise in research-led Chinese universities and the abundant opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.
Meanwhile, the recent QS World University rankings also illuminate the continuing rise of the Chinese university sector, with the number of Chinese universities now ranked in the global top 100 rising to 11.
The highest-ranked Chinese university in the latest ranking is Tsinghua, which has climbed into the top 20 at number 17, up from 25th last year. Peking University has also once again performed admirably, rising eight places to a respectable 30th, as has the University of Hong Kong, which is ranked 25th, up one place since last year’s rankings. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology also represents a robust China presence at 37th place in the new rankings.
Close behind Peking University come an increasing clutch of Chinese universities led by Shanghai’s Fudan University, which remains comfortably inside the global top 50 at number 44.
Shanghai Jiao Tong University also rose in the rankings to 59th in the global top 100, up three places from 62nd in last year’s rankings. And, once again, City University of Hong Kong is pushing for a place in the top 50, this time falling just outside, ranked 55th in the latest ranking.
But perhaps the most impressive performance among this increasingly international group of Chinese universities comes from Zhejiang University, which is 68th in the new rankings, a staggering increase of 19 places from last year’s 87th place. It may well be the case that Zhejiang University’s meteoric rise is reflective of the entrepreneurial culture that flows through the province of Zhejiang itself. Renowned for a range of export-led small and medium-sized enterprises, the Zhejiang business culture is pivotal to the continued modernization and internationalization of the entire Chinese economy.
Not far behind Zhejiang University sits China’s National Taiwan University, which is in 72nd position in the latest rankings, compared with 76th last year.
Finally, the University of Science and Technology of China remains just inside this year’s global top 100, ranked 98th — one place lower than last year.
It is vital for the European university sector to appreciate the research-led nature of an increasing number of Chinese universities, and that this is precisely responsible for their continuing rise in the world rankings.
Chinese universities, easily Asia’s top-performing university sector, should continue to rise globally, and European universities should seek more research-led collaboration. Sino-European university links have focused for far too long on joint programs in which Chinese students who started at a Chinese university complete their studies at a European one.
But those European universities that now recognize joint research opportunities with Chinese universities and Chinese academics could take most advantage and cement a long-lasting academic reputation that competitors would find difficult to follow.
European universities also need to realize that Chinese universities and their Chinese researchers are more internationally competitive across a range of subjects, not just science, engineering and related subject areas. The Chinese government, for example, is committed to the rapid development of the creative industries and, therefore, research connections are already a possibility in these subject areas, particularly in the area of fashion.
European universities should also be far more actively recruiting talented Chinese research students and academics, easily best placed to study so many aspects of the changing nature of the Chinese economy and Chinese consumer culture.
European universities need to take a more innovative, even entrepreneurial, approach to the Chinese university sector.
Not that entrepreneurial European universities should focus almost exclusively on those Chinese universities now making the global rankings. Far greater peripheral vision is needed.
China’s Nanjing University, Wuhan University and the Harbin Institute of Technology, for example, are all more than capable of breaking into the global top 100, and soon.
Looking further afield, the European university sector should study the economic implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. As a result, vast areas of central and western China should develop far more quickly than expected, and with this rapid economic development will come rapid internationalization of those Chinese universities situated closest to the development area. So surely it behooves the European university sector to study research-led partnerships and other opportunities right now to gain first-mover advantage.
European universities should also be seeking research-led connections with more of the increasing number of international Chinese brands. The current FIFA World Cup highlights the growth in international expansion of Chinese brands. Major Chinese sponsors at the soccer tournament in Russia include Inner Mongolian dairy brands producer Mengniu, as well as Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Vivo. In addition, Chinese television and refrigerator maker Hisense will be seen displaying its company name at many matches, as well as Chinese multinational conglomerate Dalian Wanda.
European universities and their research communities are best placed to help these globally ambitious Chinese brands with their continued expansion.
All in all, this latest rise in Chinese universities and their continued global expansion should not be seen as a threat, but rather as an opportunity for the European university sector. It is now incumbent on European universities to explore suitable, research-led connections with internationally emerging Chinese universities and Chinese brands alike.