Chinese universities beat US in income-related rankings

Universitas 21 grading introduces new measure of purchasing power

May 15, 2014

Source: Alamy

Chinese universities outperform those of the US when the countries’ average incomes are taken into account, according to an international ranking of higher education systems.

The Universitas 21 ranking for 2014, released on 15 May, also shows that overall the UK has risen to eighth place in the world, overtaking Australia and Singapore.

The ranking of 50 countries compares measures including the percentage of gross domestic product spent on higher education; the policy and regulatory environment; connections with businesses and overseas institutions; the number of research articles produced and the proportion of young people who enrol in higher education.

For the first time, Universitas 21, a group of research-intensive universities from across the world, has created a second ranking that looks at whether a country does better or worse on these measures than would be expected based on the purchasing power of an average citizen.

On this measure, China is ranked ninth, six places above the US, according to the U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems.

Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at the Institute of Education, University of London, explained that despite a relatively low per capita income, China was still a big enough country to allow “phenomenal” investment concentrated in a small elite stratum of its universities.

As a result, Chinese universities were now “serious players” in research terms owing to a huge increase in their production of scientific papers, he added.

The US still tops the Universitas 21 table when not adjusted for per capita wealth, and Professor Marginson pointed out that the top 5 per cent of US institutions do “overwhelmingly well”. But he added: “If you look at the overall spread of higher education at a regional level, the US is not all that special.”

The UK does well whether the results are adjusted for wealth or not: it ranks eighth in the main table (up two places from last year) and sixth when adjusted for per capita GDP.

This year the weighting for investment in higher education – on which the UK scores relatively poorly – has been reduced, whereas the importance of international and business connections – where it does well – has been increased. The UK was deemed to have the “paramount” system for getting high-quality research from relatively scant resources, Professor Marginson said.

East Asian countries have improved their positions in the main U21 table. Of the 10 countries from that region in the list, seven climbed up the rankings. The three that fell – Singapore, Malaysia and India – dropped by just one place, although India is now in bottom position.

China rose by seven places to 35th position, while Thailand climbed five positions to 42nd. The wealthier East Asian nations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all moved up the table, occupying the 20th, 21st and 22nd places, respectively.

Universitas 21 ranking, adjusted for average incomes
Source: U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems
5New Zealand
6United Kingdom

Universitas 21 main ranking
Source: U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems
1United States 
8United Kingdom

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