World University Rankings 2018: the research and reputation nexus, a country comparison

Simon Baker, THE’s data editor, considers three pairs of countries

September 5, 2017
US v China, and France v South Korea comparison graphs

Click here for larger version of graphs

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A powerful trend that emerges time and again when the rankings data are analysed by country is how growing research performance will eventually raise reputation. Conversely, nations on a relatively downward curve often seem to be living off their universities’ past esteem as their actual research performance lags.

Some of these patterns can be viewed in this analysis examining the distribution of countries’ universities in terms of their reputation and citations scores (which together account for almost two-thirds of the rankings overall score).

Three pairs of countries merit particular attention.

With China and the US, the stellar position of America’s elite universities in both areas is clear in the top right-hand corner of the graph. However, the country also has a long tail of institutions that score much lower for citation impact. Here, China’s improvement can be seen steadily encroaching on the US’ territory, while even the measure of esteem of its top institutions is starting to move in the right direction.

Meanwhile, pairing South Korea and France reveals a much stronger juxtaposition between Asia and the West. France is actually falling behind on reputation, and both countries now occupy similar spots on the scale, something that may have been unthinkable a few years ago. This is potentially driven by performance on citations: France is increasingly ceding ground to South Korea on this measure.

But the story is not all bad for Europe and North America. Comparing the Netherlands – a country with an impressive performance across all its research institutions – with Japan, which has major structural problems (not least a declining youth population), paints a different picture. Japan firmly occupies the “weakness” area of the graph with its average citation performance lagging well behind other countries. Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ average research performance is so strong that it is starting to push its reputation scores – which for most universities in the World University Rankings tend to be in the lower half of the graph – towards the middle.

Netherlands and Japan: research v reputation graph

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