ANIE Network | What 15 years of Global Ranking says about HE
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What 15 years of Global Ranking says about HE

This year’s edition of the Academic Ranking of World Universities or ARWU marks a significant milestone. It is the 15th consecutive year in which the world’s top 500 list has been published. With this edition, ARWU includes for the first time an additional list of 300 universities that it deems to have the potential to break into the top 500.

While the United States continues to dominate the ranking, it is no longer the pacesetter or the educational system that others seek to emulate: 48 of the US universities are in the world’s top 100 in 2017 compared to 58 in 2003, but there are 26 fewer universities in the top 500 in 2017 than in 2003.

A successful Chinese story

The ARWU is a Chinese project that has been a success story in the age of universities’ globalisation.

The original idea of the Chinese government was to measure the relative progress of its universities towards world-class status. In doing so, the government had a soft power win because it established an international framework by which to benchmark the efficacy and competitiveness of universities globally.

In the 2003 edition, there was no Chinese university in the top 100, but there were 19 among the top 500. Fifteen years later, there are two Chinese universities in the world’s top 100 and at least four with prospects to make it through in the coming years. Overall there are 57 in the top 500 in 2017.

There are another 55 Chinese universities that are ranked in the 501-800 band with significant scope to make it into the world’s top 500 within the next five to 10 years.

Chinese universities are now the pacesetters, although they still need to make further advances in the quality of education they offer, in their research endeavours and in many other spheres of economic and social development.

Extension of competitive markets

The ARWU relies entirely on third party data and it has minimised the institutions’ input in their emphasis on so-called ‘per capita performance’, which accounts for 10% of their overall score. This means that the sourcing of data is one step removed from the universities.

An inherited bias in this ranking is its measurement of prestige. This is defined by the number of Nobel laureates or Field medallists there are among the academics and alumni of an institution. In addition, the focus on highly cited researchers gives unwarranted power to those who are at the top of their research fields. They are the Hollywood stars of academia.

Nevertheless, ARWU, together with the other two ranking schemas (QS and Times Higher Education), has created a competitive order that universities wish to be part of. Rankings have become the framework that distils the impact, effectiveness, quality and standing of an institution in the national, regional and global arena.

Winners and losers

Aside from the additional 38 Chinese universities ranked in 2017 compared to 2003, Australia is the next country that has gained the most. Of the 43 Australian universities, 23 are included in the world’s top 500 and another four are within the 501-800 band.

South Korea has also seen an increase in the number of its universities in the top 500, up from eight in 2003 to 12 in 2017. There are another 16 Korean universities in the 501-800 band and it is predicted that some of them could make it into the 401-500 band soon….

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