Re­search boost­ing univer­sity rank­ings

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Mike Bastin The au­thor is a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nomics in Bei­jing and a se­nior lec­turer at Southamp­ton Univer­sity. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

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.

ZHANG CHENGLIANG / CHINA DAILY

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