De­vel­op­ing and dom­i­nat­ing

China’s elite pull away in Emerg­ing Economies Univer­sity Rankings

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The gap be­tween China’s elite uni­ver­si­ties and the rest of its higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor is widen­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion’s lat­est rank­ing, sug­gest­ing that the coun­try’s ex­cel­lence ini­tia­tive is al­ready start­ing to have an ef­fect.

China’s Pek­ing Univer­sity and Ts­inghua Univer­sity claim the top two places of the THE Emerg­ing Economies Univer­sity Rankings 2018 for the fifth year in a row. The coun­try takes a fur­ther five places in the top 10 (one more than last year) and one in six – or 63 – po­si­tions in the table over­all, up from 52 last year.

All of China’s 14 uni­ver­si­ties in the top 50 have ei­ther re­mained sta­ble or risen. Harbin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, for in­stance, has climbed 12 places to 29th.

How­ever, a dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges lower down the table; 20 Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tions, all of which are ranked be­low the top 50, have dropped places.

The re­sults could be a con­se­quence of the coun­try’s Double World-Class Project, which has run

since 2015 and fo­cuses fund­ing sup­port on select uni­ver­si­ties and dis­ci­plines.

In­deed, all the Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tions in the top 50 of the table and just eight of the 20 that have fallen are uni­ver­si­ties that the gov­ern­ment promised last year to sup­port to achieve “world-class” sta­tus.

It is also strik­ing that the ma­jor­ity of the uni­ver­si­ties that lost ground in the rankings did so as a re­sult of in­creased com­pe­ti­tion with other in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try, while those that gained places gen­er­ally achieved higher scores for teach­ing and re­search rep­u­ta­tion this year.

Writ­ing for THE’s Emerg­ing Economies Univer­sity Rankings sup­ple­ment, Ka Ho Mok, vi­cepres­i­dent and Lam Man Tsan chair pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive pol­icy at Ling­nan Univer­sity Hong Kong, says that in main­land China “pref­er­en­tial treat­ment of cer­tain tiers of uni­ver­si­ties will in­evitably in­ten­sify ed­u­ca­tional in­equal­ity”.

“If the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment can­not prop­erly ad­dress the widen­ing gap be­tween the ‘haves’ and ‘havenots’, par­tic­u­larly the re­gional vari­a­tions clearly re­vealed by the Double World-Class Project, with top univer­sity clus­ters lo­cated in Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Nan­jing ar­eas, then the strat­i­fi­ca­tion process will un­ques­tion­ably pro­duce dif­fer­ent so­cial classes of stu­dents,” he writes.

He adds that stu­dents in China have also “be­gun to com­plain about a per­ceived de­cline in the qual­ity of teach­ing”, given that in­sti­tu­tions now “place far more im­por­tance on re­search and knowl­edge-trans­fer re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties”.

Jamil Salmi, for­mer co­or­di­na­tor of the World Bank’s ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme and au­thor of the book The Chal­lenge of Es­tab­lish­ing World-Class Uni­ver­si­ties, said that ex­cel­lence ini­tia­tives “tend to ex­ac­er­bate in­equal­i­ties in re­sources” and noted that the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of such pro­grammes “have a clearer pur­pose of how they want to im­prove their per­for­mance”.

“By con­trast, in countries where there is no ex­cel­lence ini­tia­tive per se, but where all pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties are equally well funded, we can see more ho­mo­gene­ity in rank­ing re­sults,” he said.

A Bri­tish Coun­cil re­port pub­lished last week also pro­vided a warn­ing about such schemes, claim­ing that emerg­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in South­east Asia could find that fo­cus­ing on cre­at­ing a hand­ful of world-class uni­ver­si­ties may “come at the ex­pense of the de­vel­op­ment of international re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions across the whole of the higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems”.

This year’s Emerg­ing Economies Univer­sity Rankings in­cludes 378 in­sti­tu­tions, up from 300 last year. It uses the same 13 per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors as the THE World Univer­sity Rankings, but re­cal­i­brates them to re­flect the de­vel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties of uni­ver­si­ties in emerg­ing economies.

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