Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Rising Crescent?

One advantage of the methodological stability of the Shanghai university rankings is that it is possible to identify long term changes even though the year by year changes may be quite small.

One trend that becomes apparent when comparing the 2003 and 2011 rankings is the increasing number of universities from predominantly Muslim countries.

In 2003 there was exactly one listed, Istanbul University.

This year there were six: King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, in the 201-300 band, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia, Tehran University and Istanbul University in the 301-400 band and Cairo University and Universiti Malaya in the 401-500.

In the next year or two King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, headed by a former president of the National University of Singapore, will probably join the list.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Twist in the Plot

The  relationship between Malaysian universities and international rankers would make a good soap opera, full of break-ups, reconciliations and recriminations.

It started in 2004  when the first THES - QS ranking put Universiti Malaya (UM) in the top 100 and Universiti Sains Malaysia in the top 200. There was jubilation at the UM campus with triumphant banners all over the place. Then it all came crashing down in 2005 when QS revealed that they had made a mistake by counting ethnic minorities as international students and faculty. There followed a "clarification of data" and UM was expelled from the top 100.

The  Malaysian opposition believed, or pretended to believe, that this was evidence of the unrelenting decline of the country's universities. The Vice-Chancellor of UM went off into the academic wilderness but still remained on QS's advisory board.

UM continued to pursue the holy grail of a top 200 ranking by the vigorous  pursuit of publications and citations. There was discontent among the faculty voiced in a letter to a local newspaper:

"The writer claimed that many have left UM and “many more are planning to leave, simply because of the expectations from the management”.

“UM is not what it used to be. The academic staff are highly demoralised and unhappy due to the management’s obsession and fixation with ISI publications, while research, consultancy, and contribution to the nation, such as training of PhD students are considered as secondary,” the letter said."

In 2007 the Malaysian government asked for plans from universities to be considered for APEX (Accelerated Program for Academic Excellence) status which would include a substantial degree of university autonomy. It boiled down to a fight between UM and USM, which was won by USM apparently because of its inspiring plans.

'"The selection committee evaluated each university's state of readiness, transformation plan and preparedness for change. The university that is granted apex status is theone that has the highest potential among Malaysian universities to be world-class, and as such, would be given additional assistance to compete with top-ranking global institutions,‘addedKhaled. "Apex is about accelerated change. It is not about business as usual –but business unusual""USM has been working on its own transformation plan –We started with the ‘Healthy Campus’concept, before moving on to the‘University in a garden’concept. We subsequently adopted the ‘Research University’concept."Tan Sri DatoProf DzulkifliAbdul RazakVice Chancellor, USMSelection Committee Chairman, Dr. MohamadZawawi, former Vice Chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said the committee also paid special attention to the institutions’strategic intent and transformation plans. Visits were made to short-listed institutions where discussions were held with senior staff, academicians, students and staff associations to understand the prevailing campus’‘climate’and factors related to the proposed plans.With apex status, USM will be given the autonomy to have the best in terms of governance, resources and talent and is expected to move up in the World University Rankings with a target of top 200 in five years and in the top 100, if not 50, by 2020.'

Note that USM was expected to use its status to climb the international rankings. However, it is now refusing to have anything to do with the rankings, something that is understandable.

The issue of which university deserves APEX was reopened this morning when it was announced that Universiti Malaya  was in the top 500 of the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities.

This is unlikely to be a mistake like 2004. The Shanghai rankers have had methodological problems like what to do about merging or splitting universities but they do not change the basic methodology and they do not make serious mistakes. We are not going to hear next year about a clarification of data

UM's success is narrowly based. They have no Nobel prize winners, no highly cited researchers , only a handful of papers in Nature and Science but quite a lot of publications in ISI indexed journals. One might complain that there is too much emphasis on quantity but this is nevertheless a tangible achievement.


Press release from Shanghai

Here is the press release from Shanghai Jiao Tong University giving more details about this year's rankings.

Monday, August 15, 2011
Shanghai, People's Republic of China
The Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University released today the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), marking its 9th consecutive year of measuring the performance of top universities worldwide.
Harvard University tops the 2011 list; other Top 10 universities are: Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Cambridge, Caltech, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago and Oxford. In Continental Europe, ETH Zurich (23rd) in Switzerland takes first place, followed by Paris-Sud (40th) and Pierre and Marie Curie (41st) in France. The best ranked universities in Asia are University of Tokyo (21st) and Kyoto University (24th) in Japan.
Three universities are ranked among Top 100 for the first time in the history of ARWU: University of Geneva (73rd), University of Queensland (88th) and University of Frankfurt (100th). As a result, the number of Top 100 universities in Switzerland, Australia and Germany increases to 4, 4 and 6 respectively.
Ten universities first enter into Top 500, among them University of Malaya in Malaysia and University of Zagreb in Croatia enable their home countries to be represented, together with other 40 countries, in the 2011 ARWU list.
Progress of universities in Middle East countries is remarkable. King Saud University in Saudi Arabia first appears in Top 300; King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Saudi Arabia, Istanbul University in Turkey and University of Teheran in Iran move up in Top 400 for the first time; Cairo University in Egypt is back to Top 500 after five years of staggering outside.
The number of Chinese universities in Top 500 increases to 35 in 2011, with National Taiwan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Tsinghua University ranked among Top 200.
The Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University also released the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities by Broad Subject Fields (ARWU-FIELD) and 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities by Subject Field (ARWU-SUBJECT).Top 100 universities in five broad subject fields and in five selected subject fields are listed, where the best five universities are:
Natural Sciences and Mathematics – Harvard, Berkeley, Princeton, Caltech and Cambridge
Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences – MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, UIUC and Georgia Tech
Life and Agriculture Sciences – Harvard, MIT, UC San Francisco, Cambridge and Washington (Seattle)
Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy – Harvard, UC San Francisco, Washington (Seattle), Johns Hopkins and Columbia
Social Sciences – Harvard, Chicago, MIT, Berkeley and Columbia
Mathematics – Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and Cambridge
Physics – MIT, Harvard, Caltech,Princeton and Berkeley
Chemistry – Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Cambridge and ETH Zurich
Computer Science – Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Princeton and Harvard
Economics/Business – Harvard, Chicago, MIT, Berkeley and Columbia
The complete listsand detailed methodologies can be found at the Academic Ranking of World Universities website at
Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU): Starting from 2003, ARWU has been presenting the world top 500 universities annually based on a set of objective indicators and third-party data. ARWU has been recognized as the precursor of global university rankings and the most trustworthy list. ARWU uses six objective indicators to rank world universities, including the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific, number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index - Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, and per capita performance with respect to the size of an institution. More than 1000 universities are actually ranked by ARWU every year and the best 500 are published.
Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (CWCU): CWCU has been focusing on the study of world-class universities for many years, published the first Chinese-language book titled world-class universities and co-published the first English book titled world-class universities with European Centre for Higher Education of UNESCO. CWCU initiated the "International Conference on World-Class Universities" in 2005 and organizes the conference every second year, which attracts a large number of participants from all major countries. CWCU endeavors to build databases of major research universities in the world and clearinghouse of literature on world-class universities, and provide consultation for governments and universities.
Contact: Dr.Ying CHENG at
Breaking News

The Shanghai rankings are out. Go here.

One interesting result is that Universiti Malaya is in the top 500 for the first time, mainly because of  a large number of publications.