Punching below their weight

January 1, 1990

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For most nations, rankings performances do not reflect their economic strength, writes Phil Baty

All 22 countries considered for analysis in the Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings 2014 are rising powers.

But this graphic (see below) by data journalist Monica Ulmanu demonstrates the vast geographical spread of the countries involved, and the significant differences in their population size and national wealth.

By providing a snapshot view of the gross domestic product and population of each country, and mapping that information on to the number of representatives it has in the rankings, the graphic puts the league table results into illuminating context.

The top country in the list by total GDP is, unsurprisingly, China: it has the largest economy, the biggest population and more universities in the rankings than any other (23).

But the table also suggests a potentially serious degree of underachievement among the other three of the original “BRIC” powers – Brazil, Russia and India.

It seems clear that a country of India’s size and wealth would expect to have far more institutions in the table than the 10 representatives it actually manages.

For Brazil, the fourth-largest economy on the list, the discrepancy is even more stark: it has just four top 100 players.

In both cases, the underperformance could be partly explained by a lack of engagement with the rankings process (all universities must volunteer to share data under Thomson Reuters’ Global Institutional Profiles Project to be included).

Ashok Thakur, secretary of the Department of Higher Education, part of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, said at a national policy meeting in May 2013 that the country’s universities had to embrace the global rankings.

“We must play the same game the rest of the world is playing,” he said. “We need not be shy about it.”

One country apparently punching above its weight is Taiwan: in terms of university representatives it is second in the list (21) despite having only the eighth-largest economy of the countries covered in these rankings.

When the THE Asia University Rankings 2013 were published, Simon Marginson, now professor of international higher education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said: “Taiwan is an underestimated system…the country has led the world in electronic engineering and computing – industrial strengths mirrored in the research profiles of its leading universities.”

Perhaps Brazil, Russia and India should take a leaf out of its book.

Phil Baty is editor, Times Higher Education Rankings.

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