LONDON, Sept. 2, 2020
LONDON, Sept. 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ --
Times Higher Education (THE), has today announced the results of its World University Rankings 2021, which underline the shifting strength of higher education and research around the world. The UK's University of Oxford claims top spot for the 5th consecutive year, while US domination of the top 10 masks wider decline, and mainland China's Tsinghua University becomes the first ever Asian university to break into the top 20 since the current methodology launched in 2011.
Notwithstanding the success story of the University of Oxford, the UK's status as a higher education superpower is under challenge, as institutions from Asia continue to impress. Of the UK's 20 highest ranked institutions last year, only five were able to improve their position in the table and institutions outside of the top 200 show signs of decline.
CHART: Downward Trend of UK universities ranked 200+ in the THE World University Ranking 2016
The US also sees the challenge from Asia affecting its performance. Its universities continue to perform well at the top end of the ranking, commanding the highest number of positions in the overall top 10 (8) since the rankings began, as the University of California, Berkeley, climbs 6 places, from joint 13th to 7th. However, 50% of the US's top 20 performing universities from last year's ranking fail to maintain their position. Over the past five years, the US has lost 4 positions in the overall top 200 (63 in 2016, 59 in 2021) as competition rises for the top places.
Country / Region
University of Oxford
California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of Cambridge
University of California, Berkeley
University of Chicago
TABLE: Top 10 – THE World University Rankings 2021
A survey of 200 global university leaders – conducted earlier this year and focused on understanding the perceived impact of Covid-19 on global higher education – reinforces the challenges facing the west as UK and US leaders overwhelmingly agree that they will be able to recruit fewer international students (UK 67% agree, US 92%) and this could have a significant negative effect on their institution's finances (UK 71% agree, US 64%). Perhaps most worrying is the belief of UK and US leaders that the impact of Covid-19 is likely to result in institutions going bankrupt (UK 81% agree, US 92%). This is in contrast to the belief of Asian university leaders (South Asia 27% agree, East Asia 17%, Japan 7% and China 0%).
The UK is at particular risk from the failure to secure international student fees, as the THE World University Rankings show that 25 of its 29 universities in the top 200 have low overall institutional income and very high numbers of international students compared to their global counterparts.
CHART: UK top 200 universities reliance on international student income where overall institutional income is low
Asia's rise is fronted by mainland China's Tsinghua University (joint 20th), which becomes the first Asian university ever to break into the THE World University Rankings top 20 since the current methodology launched in 2011. This achievement is an indicator of the wider positive movements in higher education for mainland China, and the rest of Asia in recent years. Since 2016, mainland China has gained 5 additional places in the top 200 (2 in 2016, 7 in 2021). It has also doubled its representation in the top 100 since last year, gaining 3 additional places (6 in total). Of the 7 universities that achieved a top 200 place in 2020, 85% improved their position in 2021, as mainland China continues to challenge the world's very best.
In total, there are 16 Asian universities in the top 100, the highest total for Asia since the rankings began. Mainland China's Fudan University (joint 70th), Zhejiang University (joint 94th), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (100th, and South Korea's Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) (96th), all move into the elite group. Of those 16 institutions, 13 of them either improved or maintained their position from last year, demonstrating the rising competition from Asia at the expense of western higher education systems.
In terms of top 200 representation, the US dominates (59), with the United Kingdom (29) and Germany (21) following in second and third. Overall, European representation is in a steady decline, losing 9 places in the past 5 years (105 in 2016, 96 in 2021). This is a result of China, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Canada all gaining positions in the same period. However, it is not all doom and gloom for Europe, as Germany's top five performing universities in the 2021 ranking all improve or equal their 2020 ranking positions.
Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer at THE, commented:
"For several years we have been observing a slow shift in global higher education as Asian universities have climbed at the expense of their western counterparts. With mainland China's Tsinghua University breaking into the top 20 for the first time, and the country doubling its year on year representation in the top 100 from 3 to 6 in the THE World University Rankings 2021, it's clear this is not a short term thing.
This trend is likely to accelerate further as the coronavirus pandemic heralds a perfect storm of huge challenges for primarily western universities, particularly those in the UK who, along with the US, face the very real risk of losing significant international student talent, and the huge amount of income that they bring. In the longer term, possibly permanent shifts in the global flow of academic talent that has traditionally fuelled the elite institutions of the US and UK could create real challenges.
While the universities at the very top of the table, with long histories of success and prestige, will prove hard to unseat, these factors, combined with the effects of a possible deep and long-lasting global recession and its likely impact on university funding levels, could herald the start a dramatic re-balancing of the global knowledge economy."
The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, said:
"We are delighted to have consolidated our position at the top of the THE World University Rankings this year.
"The international standing of British Higher Education is a testament to generations of investment in education as well as to our extraordinarily talented staff and students.
"The Covid 19 Pandemic, which has posed such a threat to higher education around the world, has also demonstrated the critical role universities play in addressing global challenges."
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