World University Rankings 2018: Asia and the network effect

To consolidate strengths and address shared challenges, top regional institutions have formed the Asian University Alliance, Tsinghua University’s Zhou Zhong explains

September 5, 2017
A human pyramid in Asia
Source: Getty

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2018

The founding of the Asian University Alliance on 29 April 2017 was a milestone in Asian higher education. The AUA brings together 15 universities from 14 countries and regions across Asia in a creative partnership whose mission is to address the challenges related to higher education and economic, scientific and technological development across Asia.

Alliance members share a deep belief that talent can transform people’s lives and improve the state of the world through the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and truth. All of them are strongly committed to nurturing global leaders, bolstering talented individuals’ creativity and professionalism to enable them to contribute nationally and worldwide.

The AUA intends to serve as a platform uniting the various educational resources of members, to foster multicultural learning and to strengthen collaborations among higher education, government and industry.

Members certainly have a great deal to offer. The AUA consists of some of the world’s best universities in Asia. According to Times Higher Education’s rankings, 13 of the AUA universities are in the top 300 in Asia, 11 are among the world’s top 800 and six have maintained a continuous presence in the global top 100.

Moreover, AUA universities exhibit distinctive breadth of academic excellence. According to the latest data from Clarivate Analytics’ Essential Science Indicators (which are based on journal article publication counts and citation data), AUA universities participated in 22 per cent of the 9,690 “global research fronts” across the full spectrum of 22 academic fields. “Global research fronts” form when a foundational group of “core” papers is frequently cited together by subsequent papers.

International research collaboration is increasingly synonymous with world-class academic excellence. All AUA members have a substantial proportion of internationally co-authored publications, ranging from about 30 per cent to 80 per cent of their total publications over the past five years.

Download a copy of the World University Rankings 2018 digital supplement

Each AUA member is a national flagship university. Many of them are among their nations’ first modern universities. Over the past two decades, all the institutions that have come together to found the AUA have strategically aligned their missions, strategies and activities with the needs of their societies. And they have made significant social and economic contributions: delivering high-quality education, producing competent and highly competitive graduates, undertaking cutting-edge research and innovative development through spin-off enterprises, continuously enhancing networks and advancing internationalisation, promoting stronger social responsibility, and in all this and more, always instilling a vital respect for cultural values and the importance of preserving the cultural patrimony.

The inauguration of the AUA comes amid a radically altered global higher education landscape, one in which academic impetus has shifted towards a rising Asia. After more than two decades of explosive growth in access and participation, the region now hosts the largest tertiary enrolment in the world.

Asia is emerging as a global hub of research and innovation excellence supported by strong national commitment to and investment in universities. The rise of Asian higher education is both a driving force behind and an outcome of the region’s robust population growth, dynamic economy, innovative entrepreneurship and profound social transformations.

As massification in higher education has proceeded rapidly, many Asian countries have established excellence initiatives to enhance system-wide quality and to help propel national universities to world-class prominence.

When they gathered to launch the AUA, the presidents of member universities expressed confidence that they would enhance their national standing and fulfil their ambition to become more internationally competitive in Asia and the world more widely in the coming decade. The university leaders also highlighted the importance of strengthening and widening collaborations to foster more regional and international exchanges of people, knowledge and ideas, with differing focus on either academic mobility or research collaboration.

The goals may seem ambitious, but all the members agreed that they would be able to declare the AUA a success if, by 2020, it had provided quality support to its members that had enabled them to achieve their own institutional goals; it had enhanced connectivity, mobility and collaboration among alliance members; and it had established the AUA’s reputation as among the most prestigious league of universities in the world.

Asian University Alliance Members



Position in WUR 

Chulalongkorn University



University of Colombo

Sri Lanka


Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 

Hong Kong


Indian Institute of Technology Bombay



University of Indonesia



King Saud University

Saudi Arabia


University of Malaya



National University of Singapore



Nazarbayev University



Peking University



Seoul National University

South Korea


University of Tokyo



Tsinghua University



United Arab Emirates University

United Arab Emirates 


University of Yangon 



Zhou Zhong is associate professor at the Institute of Education, Tsinghua University. 

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