Japan University Rankings 2021: results announced

Students are reporting higher levels of engagement, despite Covid-19, while traditional university hierarchy further erodes

March 25, 2021
Japanese students sitting in a university lecture theatre
Source: iStock

Browse the full Japan University Rankings 2021 results


Students at Japanese universities are becoming increasingly satisfied with their learning experience, with the Covid-19 pandemic having little dampening effect on their perceived levels of engagement, according to Times Higher Education data.

Annual surveys over the past four years found that respondents were more satisfied with four aspects of their teaching experience in 2020, compared with both the previous year and three years before. These include support for critical thinking, making connections among the things they have learned and applying their learning to the real world, as well as participating in classes where they feel challenged.

The students were also more satisfied with their opportunities to provide suggestions and feedback, were more likely to feel that these suggestions were being acted on and were overall more likely to recommend their university to friends and family.

The survey was carried out annually between August and December and gathered 140,400 responses in total over the four years.



However, students’ perception of two areas relating to interaction suggest that the pandemic has had some impact on levels of engagement. Students were less satisfied with their opportunities for interaction with staff and faculty in 2020, compared with the previous three years, and were also less satisfied with their opportunities to collaborate with their peers. This latter measure has been declining since 2018, suggesting that the further drop in 2020 was not solely related to the effects of the pandemic.

The survey results also show that students who were studying entirely or mostly face-to-face in 2020 generally felt more engaged with their teaching and had more opportunities for interaction than those who were mostly or fully online. In some cases, this seems to be driven by subject differences; for instance, students studying health and medicine were most likely to say that they felt they could apply their learning to the real world and were also more likely to be studying in-person.

Meanwhile, an analysis of students’ comments in the survey suggest that they were more satisfied with the online resources at their institution in 2020 compared with 2019, which may reflect universities’ increased efforts in digital teaching and learning during the pandemic.

Emma Deraze, a data scientist at THE, said that “it has been very interesting following Japanese students’ opinions over the past few years, and seeing a clear shift in their responses”.

“Of all the countries we run student surveys in, Japan has always shown a particularly critical student body. But there does appear to be a change in Japanese higher education and how universities tackle student engagement, and it is encouraging to see that a move to online learning has not affected that.”

The 2020 and 2019 surveys form part of the methodology of the THE Japan University Rankings 2021, which was published on 25 March and includes more than 250 institutions.

Tohoku University leads the table for the second year in a row, while Tokyo Institute of Technology rises again, from joint third to second, due to small improvements in several areas, including student engagement and interaction. Meanwhile, The University of Tokyo remains in third place and Kyoto University drops two places to fourth, representing a further erosion of the traditional hierarchy in Japanese higher education; the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto are considered the country’s most prestigious institutions.


Japan University Rankings 2021: top 10

2021 rank 2020 rank Institution Overall score
1 1 Tohoku University 84.5
2 3= Tokyo Institute of Technology 81.3
3 3= The University of Tokyo 80.3
4 2 Kyoto University 80.1
5 8 Osaka University 79.6
6 6 Hokkaido University 79.4
7 7 Nagoya University 79.3
8 5 Kyushu University 78.9
9 9 University of Tsukuba 77.2
10 12 Hiroshima University 72.1

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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