Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is no longer the city’s top academic institution, according to the latest Times Higher Education rankings for the Asia region. HKUST dropped from third to fifth in the rankings, which were released by the British education magazine on Wednesday, with the University of Hong Kong in fourth place, maintaining its position from last year. Six of the city’s publicly funded universities were ranked, with five dropping a number of places. Four of them remained among the top 20 of 489 universities in the region, one fewer than Hong Kong recorded last year. But Times Higher Education researchers said last year’s anti-government protests had not played a part in the decline, although that could change in the years ahead. “The events in Hong Kong in 2019 could potentially impact its universities’ attractiveness to international students and staff, as well as their ability to have carried on research with international collaborators unimpeded,” a Times Higher Education spokesman said. “While we may see these factors contribute to a possible decline in the rankings for universities in Hong Kong against other global institutions, this would happen over a number of years, rather than in the short term.” Chinese University and City University both dropped one place to eighth and 16th respectively, while Polytechnic University fell four places to 24th, and Baptist University suffered the biggest drop, falling five places to 75th. According to the spokesman, Lingnan and Education universities were not ranked because they did not meet a necessary benchmark. “One of the criteria for entry in the Asia University Rankings is the creation of 1,000 academic publications over a five-year period,” he said. “Lingnan University and Education University have very different focuses, and do not meet this criterion.” Tsinghua University in Beijing kept its position as Asia’s top university for a second consecutive year, while Peking University rose from fifth to second in the region, followed by National University of Singapore, which was ranked third. The league table used 13 performance indicators including research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. At least six of the eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong that were ranked suffered different levels of damage to their campuses during last year’s increasingly violent protests. Polytechnic University and Chinese University suffered the most damage amid clashes between police and radical protesters who occupied the campuses. Job vacancies for Hong Kong graduates fall 55 per cent amid protests, pandemic But Times Higher Education researchers said data collection and analysis had been carried out during or before the mass protests, which broke out last June, although there was a possibility the events could affect Hong Kong universities’ rankings in the longer term. The spokesman added that the timing of the impact of the coronavirus globally, and the way data was collected, would mean the researchers would “probably not be able to attribute any movement in the rankings to a specific cause”. HKU, Chinese and Polytechnic universities said they would continue to provide quality education and achieve excellence, while the HKUST said it would seek improvements with reference to the rankings.