English speakers dominate the first 20

October 27, 2006

The English-speaking world produces most of the leading global players in the arts and humanities, according to academics in the field.

All but two of the top 20 universities in the world for arts and humanities are Anglophone institutions in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada - with Cambridge and Oxford universities topping the rankings, according to the peer-review exercise carried out by the data analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

But there are signs that some institutions are taking action to make their arts and humanities activities more visible on the world stage. As well as publishing more in English, as their science colleagues are doing, they are teaching in English too. Korea University even teaches Korean Studies in English, although not Korean literature.

This ranking shows that Cambridge and Oxford have a commanding lead over Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, in academic opinion of these areas of scholarship. Both are powerhouses in areas such as English, philosophy and history. They also house major collections and departments studying non-European cultures such as those of China and Japan and the areas that once formed part of the British Empire.

The UK has 20 universities in the top 100 for arts and humanities, one fewer than the US. Of the other English-speaking countries, Australia has 15 in the top 100, Canada five, New Zealand two.

But the high status of continental European cultures is also reflected here by the presence of institutions from France, Italy and others. Bologna, which claims to be the world's oldest university, appears at number 31.

There is little sign of changing international esteem for Asian culture.

Here, as in other subjects, our peer reviewers agree that Beijing University is Asia's top institution. It is one of four Chinese institutions in the ranking. But, despite the global reputation of Indian arts, Delhi University is the only Indian institution in this table, in 75th position.

Geoffrey Crossick, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, said: "In the arts and humanities, language, text and culture are all important to the research itself and people are more likely to publish in their own language. Most researchers know about work in their own language and in English, but not in a third language unless they're working on that country. The consequence is that English-language institutions are likely to be regarded as the world's most important because they're the most widely known.

"In future years, we might see more Asian institutions in rankings such as these because they are more likely to adopt English as a language for publication. Continental European universities in larger countries are quite rightly resistant to this trend."

Baroness O'Neill, president of the British Academy, the UK national academy for the humanities, said: "UK and US universities do well because they are incentivised financially to do research, and because junior researchers are usually allowed to get on with their work. In continental Europe, they have less security and independence and often have to cope with professors breathing down their necks."


What is research in the arts and humanities? How much of it is going on and how good is it?

These questions are being asked by education ministries, academies and universities worldwide.

But Jonathan Adams, director of Evidence, the company that supplies the citations data for the World University Rankings, warns that the answers are not simple.

He said: "In the past, the arts and humanities had little interest in quantitative indicators of their performance. It was assumed that these subjects were of cultural value but did not produce commercial benefits or add much to the trained workforce. Now everyone accepts that cultural industries are economically important. But it is hard to show how research has affected something complex such as the number of people coming to Tate Modern."

Some European academies have produced lists of top journals to allow citations of arts and humanities articles to be counted. But Dr Adams said that productivity in arts research could not be captured solely from citations.

"What would happen if a British researcher produced four sculptures or four pieces of music as contributions to the research assessment exercise? It could be argued that these are research outcomes just like a chapter in a book."

This debate is now going on in Europe and Australia and will gather intensity in the US.

Dr Adams said: "There is increased demand for transparency in research funding. The arts will find that it is not to their advantage to go on insisting they are different from everyone else."

Link to table in statistics section
The world's top arts and humanities universities

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