Categories: Rankings

Asian academic research and the top research universities in Asia

What are the best research institutes in Asia and how do those compare to other universities around the world? Is Asian academic research different than that of the "west"? Where is Asian research going?

Being interested in Asian academics this past year, I’ve noticed major differences in the way research is perceived in Asia as opposed to the west. Looking at publishing lists for Chinese and Taiwanese professors it was quite remarkable to see that most of them publish more papers in Chinese then they do in English. My Israeli university training has brought me up to believe that a decent paper should always be published in American and European leading research journals in English, and no one in Israel really publishes in Hebrew. It seems to me that the few Asian professors I’ve been in touch with weren’t that interested in appearing or taking part in the western academic discussion, with specific subjects like Business and IT being an exception.

It was interesting to come across across Josie’s China in Transition’s post about "Chinese Universities Ranked Low in Research Competitiveness" (through the very informative China MBA & Higher Education News).

CMHE – The Research Center for Chinese Science Evaluation of Wuhan University made a list of research competitiveness of universities around the world. This is a fairly debatable exercise as any such rankings must, by definition, be at least partly subjective.

CiT – The ranking is based on Essential Science Indicators (ESI), which provides data of journal article publication counts and citation frequencies in over 11000 journals around the world in 22 research fields.
Researchers hope to use the study to “assess the position of Chinese universities in the world,” and to provide some reference for “building some key universities into internationally influential institutions,” says a statement of the research center.

Take a quick look on the Wuhan University explanation of the research and findings (Google Translated here). Here’s a summary of the Research Competitiveness List with only the Asian universities and their world rank with top university of every country bolded (and a comparison to Israeli rankings, which is what I’m familiar with):

  • University of Tokyo – Japan (8)
  • Kyoto University – Japan (23)
  • Osaka University – Japan (31)
  • Tohoku University – Japan (42)
  • [Hebrew University – Israel (58)]
  • Nagoya University – Japan (72)
  • Seoul National University – South Korea (75)
  • Kyushu University – Japan (81)
  • [Tel Aviv University – Israel (87)]
  • Hokkaido University – Japan (101)
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology – Japan (109)
  • National University of Singapore – Singapore (116)
  • National Taiwan University – Taiwan (135)
  • University of Hong Kong – HK/China (149)
  • University of Tsukuba – Japan (170)
  • [Technion Israel Institute of Technology – Israel (182)]
  • Beijing University – China (192)
  • Tsing Hua University – China (196)
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong – HK/China (198)

What do the results show?

China in Transition

Top Chinese universities did not make the first 100 on a list of research competitiveness of universities around the world.
The highest ranked Chinese university on the list is Beijing University, at 192nd, followed by Tsinghua University, at 196th.

Nevertheless, the overall research competence of mainland China institutions moved up to No.16 in the world from last year’s position of No.22, according to the study. […]

Based on the results, the center concludes that Chinese universities still leg far behind the leading ones in the world, especially in terms of high-level research institutions, achievements and international impact. In other words, there is a long way to go to reach the government’s goal of turning some Chinese universities into the world’s first-class institutions.

China MBA & Higher Education News

Nevertheless, Chinese universities, measured by the benchmark of research competitiveness, did not come out of it very well. The highest ranked Chinese university on the list is Beijing University, at 192nd, followed by Tsinghua University, at 196th.

I think most Israeli professors that I’ve talked to about considering to study for a graduate degree in Asia have responded with the same astonished reply of "why on earth would you want to do that" thinking it is an academic suicide. The East-Asia Studies professors I talked to in Israel, who were a bit more open to the suggestion, have reinforced my intuition that in order to take part in "real" Chinese/Taiwanese academics is it absolutely vital that I know good Chinese and to be able to write and discuss my research topic in Chinese, rather than English. Why? because they all think that Asian research is still enclosed within itself, which might be true when looking at the university research rankings and Wuhan’s thoughts on the results.

Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Weblog, which I follow regularly, provides in-depth discussions of Taiwanese academics, and had an interesting post on the subject recently titled "Staying Competitive: Taiwan Education in a Globalized Marketplace" :

International education was not this thing that schools were calling for as a way to expand revenue. Instead, individual schools, rather than clambering for entry into this global market are being pushed screaming and yelling in to it by governmental forces they appear only reluctant to follow. Entry into this market is being enticed by huge government subsidies but despite this, the leaders in the market have remained the same schools that were leaders in the education market long before ‘globalization’ began.

Fascinating. I believe this to be true for the Chinese universities as well. Do the universities and their professors really want to become globalized?

As regular readers of my site know, I believe that state education in Taiwan, while occurring in schools, has many dissimilarities from that found in the West. There are those who believe this is linked to a deeper psychology of Chinese people evolved over their thousands of years of living together in a cultural unity. I believe this is a position that can not be sustained in light of contemporary historical, social, or cultural methods, nor is it one that a detailed examination of the relevant facts support.

The development of professional education in Taiwan has not followed the same path of development as it has in the West because Taiwan is only now emerging from a colonial condition.

Scott goes on with a long in-depth explanation of historical and political aspects of what’s happening with Taiwanese academics.

One curious aspect of the drive for increasingly competitive schools has been the emergence of Taiwan as a center for international education. […]

The move now is toward the opening of English-language programs to attract foreign students. As I showed in a Power Point from the opening meeting of my school, the vast majority of foreign students at Taiwan universities are studying at national universities. Almost all of these foreign students are enrolled at a handful of of predominantly high-ranked national schools in programs extremely well funded by the government. As Dean Henry Wu of the College of Management at National Cheng Kung University pointed out to me, attraction of foreign students is one of the conditions of the massive amount of money being infused into the selected top national universities of Taiwan. This point was emphasized in the statement of Assistant Minister Dr. Lu  in his statement on building world-class research universities (also see this statement).

and Scott concludes :

Taiwan has never been a major destination for foreign students. The injection of massive funding with the assumption of transforming the nation into such a destination is questionable. The major destinations in the world took more than a hundred years to create a distinctive form of education plus a world war that made the USA and English-medium instruction the most desired. Not at all the money in the country can do this for Taiwan over night.

With my outsider perspective, I believe that Taiwan’s globalization dilemma is shared with other East-Asian countries, and especially China. Maybe other countries in East-Asia have been "colonized" up till not long ago as well, in a way. It’s remarkable to witness how the famous universities in China make their way up the world university rankings every year, now reaching the top 10, with simple globalization methods supported by huge finances from the Chinese government. In a recent discussion with a Taiwanese former NCKU student he told me about the NCKU’s goal of reaching a top-100 ranking and to achieve that NCKU gets significant government support and has gone through very "western" reforms.

I have a strong conflict between wanting to see East-Asian universities and research making it world-wide and becoming prominent, and my fear of the very American oriented "globalization", powered by the use of the English language, that might be taking over what’s unique about the East-Asian perspective of academics. While China and Taiwan are "opening up" to the west, the west does nothing to open up to the east in either language or research methods. I guess the real question might be – is American/UK/"western" academics really the best method for studying and doing research? I wonder what a Chinese professor who didn’t study abroad would respond to that.

Sidenote : There’s a very interesting discussion I find indirectly relevant to this topic in Far Eastern Economic Review on "Have China Scholars All Been Bought which I hope to write about soon.

Other Asia university rankings and thoughts can also be found here :

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