Hong Kong institutions lead the rankings in Asia

QS university rankings has been producing the ranking of top 200 Asian universities since 2009, and the newest edition was recently published. The methodology for this ranking is somewhat different from the QS World University Rankings that has been produced since 2004. Whereas in the world ranking the focus is on international research universities, the Asian ranking also weighs universities that have a more local focus and that publish primarily in the local language.

The newly published QS rankings of top Asian universities has indicated that the two overall best universities in Asia are located in Hong Kong.  John O’Leary summarizes on the QS Intelligence unit page some of the findings. Japan still keeps its strong position in the ranking with over 25% of the universities in top200 being from Japan. While Hong Kong also shows a strong performance, mainland China has only made marginal progress. Considering the Chinese efforts in building world class universities, this could be seen as a disappointing result. However, as always, depending on the ranking methodology there are aspects of higher education that the rankings do show and there are always aspects they do not show. The rankings include institutions from 13 countries, however – Vietnam and Sri Lanka are still absent.

One can also examine the rankings with respect to the specific indicators that have been measured. If one examines the academic peer review aspect of the ranking, one can see that what are considered the best universities in Asia by peers include seven institutions with a top score – two from Japan, two from China, and one from Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. This is in contrast with the THE reputation rankings of world universities published earlier this year, where  the top 6 was leading by a clear margin.

If one examines the indicators “citations per faculty” and “citations per paper“, there is a quite clear dominance of Japanese universities. For example, in the citations per faculty, there are 13 Japanese institutions in top 2. When one examines the internationalisation aspects – such as the amount of international students and faculty, the picture emerging is quite different. When it comes to international faculty, there are no Japanese universities in top10, and the top 10 are divided between Singapore and Hong Kong, with three and seven universities respectively. With respect to international students, the top ten is divided by institutions from Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Overall top 10 of Asian universities looks like this:

1. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong)
2. University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
3. National University of Singapore (NUS) (Singapore)
4. The University of Tokyo (Japan)
5. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
6. Seoul National University (South Korea)
7. Kyoto University (Japan)
8. Osaka University (Japan)
9=. Tohoku University (Japan)
9=. Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan)

So – what do these rankings tell us? Many questions emerge and remain unanswered. Are the best universities in Asia in Japan and the two Hong Kong universities are the very top? Provided all the investment China is putting to higher education, why has there been no progress? While there is no question that rankings have come to stay – the important thing to ask is still – do rankings actually measure quality? Can we say that the best universities are in Japan, based on rankings alone?  What are some of the important aspects of higher education that are not portrayed in these rankings?