Country files: the release of the Universitas 21 rankings

Becomes first Asian country to break into the Universitas 21 top 10. David Matthews reports

May 9, 2013

An Asian country has for the first time broken into the top 10 of national higher education systems, according to the second annual Universitas 21 rankings.

Singapore jumped two places to ninth in the overall table, which ranks 50 countries on measures including investment, gender balance, international connectivity and research output. The UK remains in 10th place.

Ross Williams, one of the report’s authors and a professorial fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, said that the city-state was “beefing up its ancillary institutions”.

These universities were now “actively recruiting top researchers” from across the globe in “a deliberate attempt to make it an important research country in Asia and the world,” Professor Williams said.

Singapore is ranked eighth in the table for “resources”, a metric that combines government, total and per-student spending on tertiary education, as well as research and development expenditure. It is third for “connectivity”, which rates the number of international students and the amount of global research collaboration.

The state is ranked only 18th in the “output” rating - a measure of research output and excellence, and the number of researchers and students in the nation per head of population - but Professor Williams said there would inevitably be a “lag effect” between Singapore’s investment and results.

In the fourth metric, “environment”, which covers government policy, diversity and participation, Singapore comes 12th.

The UK is still ranked second for output but this year made a small gain on the US, which remains comfortably at number one.

In terms of resources, UK’s top universities rose by three places to 24th, although this uses data from 2009 and 2010, before the introduction of a real-terms cut to the research budget and the gradual replacement of the direct teaching grant with student tuition fees.

“While the government contribution [in terms of the proportion of gross domestic product] is very low, what’s interesting is that an above-average component of that is for research and development,” Professor Williams said.

Investment per student was not “too bad” in the UK, he said, although this was partly explained by a “slightly below-average participation rate”. But, he added, the low level of overall investment “kills” the UK’s chances of achieving a high main ranking.

The US tops the overall table, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Denmark. Switzerland climbed from sixth to third place, the result of international research collaborations, Professor Williams explained. It also jumped two places to top the connectivity table.

For the first time Saudi Arabia was included and was ranked 28th overall. The kingdom has been investing heavily in the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology to attract top researchers and students from around the world. It finished 45th in output, despite coming seventh in terms of resources.

Universitas 21 is a global network of 24 research-intensive universities that has been active since 1997.

The Times Higher Education World Academic Summit will be held in Singapore, 2-4 October 2013

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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