Chinese universities continue to improve in global rankings

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 20, 2017
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As reported by last week, the 2017 rankings of the world's universities show that China continues to make significant improvement in both the quantity and quality of its higher education institutions. The world rankings can be found on the Times Higher Education site.

While traditional elite universities in Singapore, Japan and South Korea have continued their tradition of excellence, especially pleasing in the latest rankings is the fact that other Asian countries and regions have also continued to make significant strides, including India, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

India, for example, has more than doubled its representation in the list from 16 universities last year to 33 in 2017. Other Asian countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines entered the elite list for the first time. This points to a growing "democratization" of knowledge and a general enhancement of higher education institutions in most parts of the world.

I have been working with various Chinese universities for over twenty years now and have witnessed China's amazing improvement in the quality of its universities. I would underscore the following factors underlying this continued success:

China has made major strides especially in technical and science areas as well as mathematics. Lagging behind, however, has been the humanities and social sciences. Given the reality that discipline fields are increasingly converging and a significant share of innovation comes from outside the discipline, it will be important for China to commit to raising the bar in these areas as well. That said, it is notable that research in Chinese universities has improved significantly in both quantity and quality.

While the university rankings focus on institutions, those institutions are built by people. Over the course of my two decades of involvement in China, I have seen remarkable development in academic staff. Increasingly, full time staff have PhD's. More often than not those PhD’s were attained at some of the world’s best institutions all around the world -- the U.S., Japan, continental Europe, the U.K., etc.

The quality of administrative support and systems has also greatly improved. Knowledge production and the Information Age is a team game. Credit must also be given to the many talented administrative staff in universities and government who provide the infrastructure which empowers China’s institutions to work efficiently, to keep, track and analyze data in order to produce continuous improvement.

China has made it a high priority to both improve and invest resources in its universities. It has set high expectations and offered rewards and incentives tied to goal achievement.

China's universities are also increasing their partnerships with industry thereby providing resources and uniting theory with practical application. This has helped China to improve dramatically its production of intellectual property and commercialization of that intellectual property.

Chinese universities have formed partnerships as well with leading universities around the world. This has led to joint research projects. China's Global 1000 Talents Program and other programs have also brought many foreign experts to China who have worked with Chinese students and academics. Another form of partnership involves joint degree programs at various levels. For example, at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) where I taught, over 100 Chinese students in the College of Comparative Law had graduated with dual Master's Degrees from CUPL and one of five German universities in the consortium.

Another factor has been the high number of Chinese students studying abroad. Many of these students return to China, set up businesses and partner with Chinese universities thus providing a major driver for innovation.

English is the global language of commerce. Most Chinese universities today are teaching some classes in English and the overall standard of English among Chinese students and faculty has greatly improved over the years. This means that Chinese institutions are more attractive to foreign experts and it also means that Chinese staff and students are better positioned to partner with leading universities in the U.S., U.K., Canada and other predominantly English speaking programs.

Technology, especially in telecommunications, has made it easier for universities and their faculty and students to communicate with their counterparts around the world and to learn about benchmark and seek to emulate best practice elsewhere.

Finally, culture has also played an important role. Chinese culture places a high value on education. Chinese families provide strong financial, moral and other support to their sons and daughters to attain their highest possible level of education. They are future-focused and determined to succeed.

Overall, the latest higher education rankings are a very positive story for China. Warmest congratulations to the many dedicated faculty, administrators, education department ministers, university leaders and others who have worked hard to make such improvements possible. Keep it going! As Aristotle wrote many centuries ago:

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." -- Aristotle

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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