THE World University Rankings 2021: results announced

China makes record-breaking achievements in latest league table as experts predict that the pandemic may accelerate the country’s rise

September 2, 2020
Source: Getty

Browse the full results of the World University Rankings 2021


Chinese universities have made several historic gains in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, with data revealing that the Asian giant is closing in?on, and in some areas overtaking, the US in terms of research.

China is home to the first Asian university in the top 20 of the ranking since the current methodology was introduced in 2011, after Tsinghua University climbed three places to joint 20th this year. The country has also doubled its number of top 100 representatives, from three to six, in the past year, while all bar one of its top 20 institutions in last year’s ranking have improved or maintained their performance.

The country’s gains in the 2021 edition of the ranking are part of a long-term trend of continued advancement for the east Asian nation. Three of the four Chinese institutions that were ranked in the 201-300 band in the 2016 edition of the ranking are now among the top?100 (Nanjing University, the exception, is on the cusp of entering this group, at joint 111th).

In contrast, while a few US universities that were in the 201-300 band in 2016 have since moved up, none has made it to the top 100, and several have drifted downwards.

Chinese universities have also been closing the gap with the US on citation impact since the 2018 edition, and this year the research quality of the middle-ranking universities in the two countries – based on the number of citations achieved by the middle 50?per cent of ranked universities – is beginning to converge for the first time. This means that some middle-ranking Chinese universities are now outperforming some middle-ranking US universities.

Meanwhile, China’s median research income is higher than the US’ for the first time this year.

The US still dominates the top of the ranking, commanding a record eight of the top?10 positions (see table below), after the University of California, Berkeley climbed six places to seventh. However, half of the US’ top?20 institutions in last year’s ranking have slipped this year. The UK’s University of Oxford occupies the top spot for the fifth consecutive year.


Top 10 in World University Rankings 2021

Rank 2021

Rank 2020

Institution

Country/region

1

1

University of Oxford

United Kingdom

2

4

Stanford University

United States

3

7

Harvard University

United States

4

2

California Institute of Technology

United States

5

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States

6

3

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

7

=13

University of California, Berkeley

United States

8

8

Yale University

United States

9

6

Princeton University

United States

10

9

University of Chicago

United States

?


The Chinese government has provided sustained investment in higher education and research and development for more than two decades, with funding specifically targeted at developing world-class universities, training scholars at top institutions in the West and building capacity in China.

Wei Zhang, a lecturer in education at the University of Leicester who has been analysing Chinese research quality, said the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic was having a greater impact in the US might accelerate China’s progress towards catching up with the country on research.

The coronavirus crisis leaves the US higher education sector in a “critical financial position”, she said, with “ongoing consequences, like the reduction in university income and expenditure and laying off temporary teaching and research staff, affecting research productivity and institutional reputation, which are central to global university rankings”.

In contrast, China’s 42 Double First Class universities have “remained largely unscathed financially from the pandemic as the government’s generous investment offsets short-term income losses for universities”, she said.

“To this end, the pandemic may give Chinese universities the opportunity to close the gap with US institutions.”


Best represented countries in top 200

Country/region

Number of institutions in top 200

Top institution

Rank

United States

59

Stanford University

2

United Kingdom

29

University of Oxford

1

Germany

21

LMU Munich

32

Australia

12

University of Melbourne

31

Netherlands

11

Wageningen University & Research

=62

Canada

8

University of Toronto

18

China

7

Tsinghua University

=20

South Korea

7

Seoul National University

60

Switzerland

7

ETH Zurich

14

France

5

Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL?Research University Paris

46

Hong Kong

5

University of Hong Kong

39

Sweden

5

Karolinska Institute

=36


A recent THE survey of 200 university leaders found that 87?per cent of respondents in North America expected the pandemic to cause university bankruptcies in their country, compared with just 17?per cent in east Asia.

Marijk van der Wende, distinguished professor of higher education at Utrecht University, added that before the pandemic the international mobility of Chinese students to Western countries, and especially the US, was in decline, while the number of Chinese scholars who had trained in the West returning to China was on the rise.

Given that global recession forecasts indicated that China was “still expected to show a small plus in economic growth for 2020, while the US is in the big minuses”, China “may be able to further capitalise on these shifting flows”, she said, adding that the country was already planning to compensate for a slowdown in economic growth by investing more in its technology sector.

Professor van der Wende added that in the long run China’s rise could “pose a?threat to US universities’ dominance” in rankings, but she said the eventual outcome would depend on “how US universities make their strategic choices and on how rankings will be shaped”.

On the one hand, Chinese universities will become even more interesting partners to collaborate with; but on the other hand, both the pandemic and geopolitical tensions might continue to hinder mobility and cooperation.

Jenny Lee, professor of educational policy studies and practice at the University of Arizona, agreed that it was an oversimplification to say that China’s progress was a threat to the US’ dominance of world research.

“China supports global science and supports US scientific advancement,” she said. “Our findings show that the among all US-China co-publications, China leads in first authorship and funding these research papers. China also supports the US’ total scientific output, which would otherwise decline.”

However, she added, “the US is more dependent on China than vice versa based on total scientific publications”, while China will become “less dependent on the US for citations” in the long term as its own scientific impact steadily rises.

The THE World University Rankings 2021 include more than 1,500 universities from 93 countries or regions.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline:?Sky’s the limit: China’s star continues upward

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Reader's comments (4)

Post pandemic, US should aggressively but strategically encourage and support funding collaborative research in US, attracting best talents from China, India and their subsequent placement in research organizations.
Domination of the West continues
The service is perfect
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