Benchmarks for assessment

January 1, 1990

International collaboration as measured by world rankings is key to Asia’s future, argues Justin Kim.

Innovation is a key driver for Asia’s fastest-growing economies and universities are vital sources of it. There are several higher education institutions that have put their names on the world map by becoming top-ranking universities in a short period of time: with the right strategy, others can follow suit.

Analysis of Thomson Reuters’ data shows that the volume of research produced by Asian universities continues to increase and even outperforms non-Asian universities in certain fields. These leading areas are often aligned with industrial sectors that support host nations’ economic growth: South Korea, for example, consistently demonstrates outstanding research in materials science, as the semiconductor industry has contributed substantially to the growth of its economy.

However, gaining international recognition for the overall quality of its research remains a challenge for the region. Although Asian universities conduct good research in some areas, they are not well recognised beyond their own shores. This anonymity can make it difficult for them to find academic partners globally, nurture new research continually and take their work to the next level.

This can be an obstacle for Asian universities in their efforts to improve their competitiveness because global collaboration is an important catalyst for more innovative and high-quality research. Working with the global community helps universities to access more diverse and creative ideas and discoveries, and provides more opportunities for participation in groundbreaking research.

Asian universities will progress only if they make more effort to promote themselves across the world and proactively engage with their global peers, regardless of the language barriers and cultural differences. Such activity can include co-authoring papers, forming exchange programmes and establishing joint research laboratories with overseas partners.

It is also important for Asian researchers to publish papers in world-class journals and attend well-known international conferences so that they can engage with their global peers continually.

Industrial collaboration is another essential catalyst. Innovation is a hot-ticket item for many technology companies. The high-tech industry aggressively seeks universities as research partners and Asian institutions should take advantage of this demand. Having a strong foothold in emerging research areas can attract many companies from around the world, which can create greater research funding opportunities and in turn help universities to hire more talent to expedite progression.

Our analysis of the Thomson Reuters data used to create the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Asia University Rankings shows that world-class universities must be strong not only in research but also in teaching.

As would be expected, the data demonstrate that the higher the research or teaching score, the higher the overall position in the THE World University Rankings, which use 13 separate performance indicators covering teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. Top universities tend to excel in both research and teaching.

Universities with good research capability tend to provide better teaching programmes, which can educate students more effectively and better prepare them to provide what society needs. This helps the university to attract more talented students and researchers, which in turn supports and sustains its core research competency.

Building this sustainable cycle is critical to the success of Asian universities that aim to achieve world-class status. Research and teaching should be framed to influence each other so that the university’s overall competency constantly improves. Within this framework, internationalisation and collaboration with industry become catalysts to strengthen the university’s core.

Asian universities need their own strategic framework in which the four major components measured by the THE rankings – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook – are well aligned, allowing their strategic plans and resources to be managed effectively. Without a strategic framework it can be easy to stray off course, lose sight of the overall plan and mismanage resources.

Universities operate in a dynamic environment. They must continuously monitor global trends and evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses based on a strategic framework they have developed for themselves. The THE rankings provide an excellent platform for universities to benchmark various aspects of their core competencies.

Within such a strategic framework, benchmarking and evaluating rankings data will provide accurate and clear insights for Asian universities aspiring to become world-class institutions.

Justin Kim is Thomson Reuters’ regional director for intellectual property and science, North Asia, including South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

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