World Reputation Rankings 2021: results announced

International scholars in arts, humanities and social sciences are recognising universities in China, sometimes more than their local academics

October 27, 2021
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Browse the THE World Reputation Rankings 2021 results

The rising global reputation of Chinese universities is usually attributed to their scientific prowess, but new rankings data from Times Higher Education reveal that it is also being driven by research and education in the humanities and social sciences.

The data behind the THE World Reputation Rankings 2021, which is based on a global survey of leading scholars across all academic disciplines, shows that academics working in the humanities and social sciences are increasingly recognising Chinese institutions, according to analysis by THE’s data team.

Fudan University, which is ranked in the 51-60 band globally, received 27 per cent of its votes from international scholars in the physical sciences, but 18 per cent from those in the arts and humanities, suggesting that its work in the latter is a considerable driver of the university’s overall reputation score. Votes for Fudan from academics within China were more likely to come from experts in business and economics and clinical and health subjects.

Beijing Normal University, which jumped up the rankings from the 176-200 band last year to the 126-150 group, received 47 per cent of its international votes from scholars working in social sciences and 18 per cent from those in the arts and humanities. The university also received a high number of local votes from social science scholars.

National v international standing of Chinese universities by subject

National v international standing of Chinese universities by subject

Meanwhile, at Nanjing University, 49 per cent of international votes came from academics in the arts and humanities.

However, few China-based academics in the arts and humanities voted for Beijing Normal or Nanjing. The disparity is most stark at Nanjing, where the majority of national votes come from scholars in the physical sciences and business and economics.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said Fudan, Beijing Normal and Nanjing were “somewhat unusual in China among the current top universities” as they were all strong in English-language scholarship in non-science areas, unlike others that work predominantly in Chinese. This might explain why they received a high number of international votes in humanities and social sciences but fewer from their local colleagues.

“Most Chinese universities that are good in the social sciences and humanities work largely in Chinese and do less in global English,” Professor Marginson said. “The bibliometric evidence on work in English indicates that STEM is still all the rage in China.”

The questionnaire, which is administered on behalf of THE by Elsevier, targets only experienced, published scholars, who offer their views on excellence in research and teaching within their disciplines and at institutions with which they are familiar.

The power of the media

Asian scholars are more likely to rate universities highly based on publications and media sources than academics in Western Europe.

Scholars taking part in THE’s Academic Reputation Survey, the world’s largest invitation-only academic opinion survey that underpins the World Reputation Rankings, were asked which types of publications and media influenced how they cast their votes for the best universities.

China-based academics were the most likely to be influenced by academic journals, with 80 per cent saying digital journals had an impact on their views and 82 per cent saying the same for print journals. Japanese academics were heavily influenced by digital and print journals also, at 76 and 71 per cent, respectively.

In contrast, scholars in Western Europe suggested that publications and media sources had far less influence on how they voted. 

French academics were the least likely to rate universities highly based on the research they read in journals, with less than 41 per cent saying digital or print journals had an impact.

For UK academics, 53 per cent valued digital journals and 46 per cent print.

Russian scholars were the most likely to be influenced by a university’s own publications – print or digital – followed by academics across Africa, although this was still seen as influential only for less than half of academics in those regions. Italian academics also placed high stock in a university’s digital publications, compared with their peers in other countries. Scholars in the UK were the least likely to consider this, with just 10 per cent saying a digital publication from a university was a factor and 5 per cent saying the same for a print university publication. Australians also placed little value on university publications.

The World Reputation Rankings 2021 are based on a survey carried out between November 2020 and February 2021, which received a total of 10,963 responses from 128 countries. Harvard University leads the table, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford, Stanford University and the University of Cambridge.


Print headline: Chinese arts and humanities research gains global credit

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