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Universities in Hong Kong

Hong Kong risks falling further behind Singapore and other Asian rivals, if university rankings are dismissed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 5:01pm

Not everyone supported university rankings when they started to attract interest in the 1980s, but today, they are an integral part of higher education globally.

Ranking allows us to move beyond the stereotypical Chinese view that in higher education, old means good. It removes self-assumption from the calculation, and moves us towards an objective assessment instead.

Among the several systems for ranking universities, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE) and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) are the most influential. Each uses different criteria and so produces different results.

The table below reveals that Japan, mainland China and Singapore are arguably the best in Asia, in terms of the quality of their university education; they have the most number of universities ranked among the top 100 in all three systems. Any university that notches up such a performance can be considered excellent.

In comparison, higher education in Hong Kong and South Korea has made some progress and is approaching excellence.

We would come to the same conclusion even if standards were loosened, and not confined to the top-100 standard.

Three Hong Kong universities in Asia's top 10 – but Singapore still number 1

Five years ago, only two universities from Asia (both in Japan) were ranked among the top 100 in all three rankings. According to the latest results of these three rankings, that number has risen to five: Peking University, Tsinghua University, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.

I contend that the key to their success lies in “soulware”, that is, the basic principles of “integration of teaching and research” and “separation of politics and academics”. In general, “soulware” is badly needed in our community.

Asian universities are climbing the rankings – but are league tables flawed?

Evaluation reveals patterns of success. The United States, already the runaway leader in higher education, continues to improve. Five years ago, 29 of the 53 universities in the top 100 in the world in all three rankings were American. Today, 32 of the 58 universities so ranked are from the US.

Unless Hong Kong rewards strongly performing universities, and invests in learning and research at international standards, I predict that, after falling behind Singapore, we will also lag behind South Korea.

Ultimately, do some people dismiss international rankings because the results fail to align with expectations, and with a mindset dating back to colonial times?

Way Kuo, City University of Hong Kong