The THE reputation rankings include only 100 universities. QS is now ranking close to 1,000 universities and provides scores for 500 of them including academic reputation and employer reputation.
The publication of these rankings has led to claims that British and American universities are performing well again after a period of stress and difficulty. In recent years we have heard a great deal about the rise of Asia and the decline of the West. Now it seems that THE and QS are telling us that things are beginning to change.
The rise of Asia has perhaps been overblown but if Asia is narrowly as Northeast Asia and Greater China then there is definitely something going on. Take a look at the record of Zhejiang University in the Leiden Ranking publications indicator. In 2006-9 Harvard produced a total of 27,422 papers and Zhejiang University 11,173. In the period 2013-16 the numbers were 33,045 for Harvard and 20,876 for Zhejiang. In seven years Zhejiang has gone from 42% of Harvard's score to 63%. It is not impossible that Zhejiang will reach parity within two decades.
We are talking about quantity here. Reaching parity for research of the highest quality and the greatest impact will take longer but here too it seems likely that within a generation universities like Peking, Zhejiang, Fudan, KAIST and the National University of Singapore will catch up with and perhaps surpass the Ivy League, the Russell Group and the Group of Eight.
The scientific advance of China and its neighbours is confirmed by data from a variety of sources, including the deployment of supercomputers, the use of robots, and, just recently, the Chinese Academy of Science holding its place at the top of the Nature Index.
There are caveats. Plagiarism is a serious problem and the efficiency of Chinese research culture is undermined by cronyism and political conformity. But these are problems that are endemic, and perhaps worse, in Western universities.
So it might seem surprising that the two recent world rankings show that American and British universities are rising again.
But perhaps it should not be too surprising. QS and THE emphasise reputation surveys, which have a weighting of 50% in the QS world rankings and 33% in THE's. There are signs that British and American universities and others in the Anglosphere are learning the reputation management game while universities in Asia are not so interested.
Take a look at the the top fifty universities in the QS academic reputation indicator, which is supposed to be about the best universities for research. The countries represented are:
There is one each for Switzerland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, France and Brazil.
The top fifty universities in the QS citations per faculty indicator, a measure of research excellence, are located in:
Hong Kong 2
There is one each from Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, UK, Sweden, Taiwan, Singapore and Belgium.
Measuring citations is a notoriously tricky business and probably some of the high flyers in the reputation charts are genuine local heroes little known to the rest of the world. There is also now a lot of professional advice available about reputation management for those with cash to spare. Even so it is striking that British, Australian, and Canadian universities do relatively well on reputation in the QS rankings while China, Switzerland, the Netherlands, India and Israel do relatively well for citations.
For leading British universities the mismatch is very substantial. According to the 2018-19 QS world rankings, Cambridge is 2nd for academic reputation, 71st for citations, Manchester is 33rd and 221st, King's College London 47th and 159th, Edinburgh 24th and 181st. It is not surprising that British universities should perform well in rankings where there is a 40 % weighting for reputation.
UCLA has risen from 13th to 9th
Cornell from 23rd to 18th
University of Washington from 34th to 28th
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 36th to 32nd Carnegie Mellon from 37th to 30th
Georgia Institute of Technology from 48th to 44th.
Some of this is probably the result of a change in the distribution of survey responses. I have already pointed out that the fate of Oxford in the THE survey rankings is tied to the percentages of responses from the arts and humanities. THE have reported that their survey this year had an increased number of responses from computer science and engineering and a reduced number from the social sciences and the humanities. Sure enough, Oxford has slipped slightly while LSE has fallen five places.
The shift to computer science and engineering in the THE survey might explain the improved reputation of Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon. There is, I suspect, something else going on and that is the growing obsession of some American universities with reputation management, public relations and rankings, including the hiring of professional consultants.
In contrast, Asian universities have not done so well in the THE reputation rankings.
University of Tokyo has fallen from 11th to 13th place
University of Kyoto from 25th to 27th
Osaka University from 51st to 81st
Tsinghua University is unchanged in 14th
Peking University 17 unchanged in 17th
Zhejiang University has fallen from the 51-60 band to 71-80 University of Hong Kong has fallen from 39th to 40th.
All but one of the US universities have fallen in the latest Nature Index, UCLA by 3.1%, University of Washington 1.7%, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 12%, Carnegie Mellon 4.8%, Georgia Tech 0.9%.
All but one of the Asian universities have risen in the Nature Index, Tokyo by 9.2%, Kyoto 15.1%, Tsinghua 9.5%, Peking 0.9%, Zhejiang 9.8%, Hong kong 25.3%.
It looks like that Western and Asian universities are diverging. The former are focussed on branding, reputation, relaxing admission criteria, searching for diversity. They are increasingly engaged with, or even obsessed with, the rankings.
Asian universities, especially in Greater China and Korea, are less concerned with rankings and public relations and more with academic excellence and research output and impact.
As the university systems diverge it seems that two different sets of rankings are emerging to cater for the academic aspirations of different countries.