Developing and dominating
China’s elite pull away in Emerging Economies University Rankings
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.