Singapore trumps peers in THE Asia rankings; Malaysia, Indonesia named emerging stars

Singapore trumps peers in THE Asia rankings; Malaysia, Indonesia named emerging stars
Singapore's NUS is top again in THE's Asia University rankings 2017. Source: Shutterstock/Casper1774 Studio

They did it again. The prestigious National University of Singapore (NUS) beat its Asian peers for the second year running to emerge top in the Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings 2017.

And they weren’t the only Singaporean institute to make Top 10 either. Also on the list released on Thursday is Nanyang Technological University, another well-respected institution of the city-state, although it slid two rungs from last year to make fourth place.

Taking second and third places respectively are China’s Peking University and Tsinghua University, clear indicators the country remains a higher education powerhouse.

Other institutions to make top ten include Hong Kong’s University of Hong Kong (5th) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (6th); Japan’s University of Tokyo (7th); and South Korea’s Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Seoul National University and Pohang University of Science and Technology.

The top 10 Asian universities in THE Asia Universities 2017. Source: @THEworldunirank.

According to THE, Singapore’s Southeast Asian neighbours Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are fast creeping up the ladder as well, and will likely in future years emerge top education stars in the region.

The UK-based higher education magazine said the rankings, which were expanded from 200 universities last year to 300 this year, suggest these countries could potentially follow in the footsteps of other Asian powerhouses like China and South Korea.

For example, Thailand is the most represented country in Southeast Asia in this year’s rankings, with as many as 10 universities making the list. Leading the list for Thailand is Mahidol University in 97th place.

Indonesia, on the other hand, now has two representatives – double its tally last year. Newcomer Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) made it to the 201-250 ranking band, joining University of Indonesia in band 251+.

ITB rector Kadarsah Suryadi said the country’s large – and growing – youth population and its pool of over 4,300 universities mean Indonesia has good opportunity to achieve great heights in the higher education sector.

THE Asia Universities 2017 in numbers. Pic: Times Higher Education.

Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education and director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education, also labelled Indonesia as “the next Brazil”, noting it has the fourth largest population in the world, has exceptional resources and is led by a secular Islamic state that “on the whole successfully holds a very diverse country together”.

“It is growing well in economic terms and undergoing accelerated modernisation as [rural inhabitants] move to the cities,” he said.

“But while there is a well-developed professional teaching culture, investment in research science has never been a “national priority.”

However, of all the emerging university nations in Asia, this year’s THE rankings suggest Malaysia has the greatest potential.

Nine Malaysian institutions made it to the list, with seven claiming spots on the top 200, an increase from last year’s four. In the top 200 band are three new entries. University of Malaya (UM), the first university to be established in Malaysia and one of Southeast Asia’s oldest institution, is the country’s top in this year’s THE Asia list at 59th place overall.

Other notable institutions like Universiti Tuanku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and Universiti Teknologi Petronas also made the rankings, taking spots in the 111-120 and 141-150 bands respectively.

According to a breakdown of UM’s score, the university has a particularly strong international outlook compared to others in the continent, taking 20th on this indicator.

UM vice-chancellor Mohd Amin Jalaludin told THE international students now make up 18 percent of the institutions’ total enrollment, a significant rise from five percent in 2000. He said 20 percent of UM’s academics come from abroad. To accommodate this, Amin said the university offered English programmes for education seekers. A total of 40 percent of the university’s research papers are published with international collaborators, he said.

Malaysia’s UM is the country’s best, according to THE’s Asia rankings. Source: Shutterstock/amirraizat

Malaysia, he said, was “definitely on [its] way to becoming a leading higher education nation”, based on the number of “quality universities” and branch campuses of other renowned international institutions that now have presence in the country.

Weighing in on Malaysia’s performance, Marginson noted Malaysia is well on its way to becoming a wealthy country with a Gross Domestic Product per capita of US$26,950, which is well above the world average of US$15,673.

However, he also acknowledged the Malaysian government spends healthy chunks of its annual budgets on “subsidising participation by middle-class families who would participate regardless of the regime for tuition and student support”.

Marginson also said the country had overemphasised applied research at the expense of basic research even though the country lacks trained talent for this.

Additionally, too many of the country’s PhD students have been sent abroad, meaning development of local infrastructure has been held back.

“To be blunt, Malaysia remained in a position of neocolonial dependency, vis-à-vis the UK and the US, long after it already had the resources to be building its own scientific capacity. This was a policy error of the long Mahathir [Mohamad] prime ministership,” Marginson said

“All nations should send some of their PhD students abroad, but the balance between the overseas trained and locally trained is vital. Too much local training reduces the level of global knowledge in the national system. Too much international training means there is no national system.”

Overall, this year’s rankings saw Japan emerge winner of having the most number of representatives with 69 institutions.

However, THE said most Japanese varsities lost ground in the rankings from last year, while its rivals in China, Hong Kong and India continued to rise.

It said India had also made great gains this year, having doubled its representation and claiming 33 places in the list, up from 16 last year.

Hong Kong now has five institutions in the Top 20 list, an increase from last year’s four.

To calculate the rankings for THE’s Asia list, the magazine used the same 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators used for its world rankings.

These indicators are grouped into five key areas – teaching (the learning environment), research (volume, income and reputation), citations (research influence), international outlook (staff, students and research) and industry income (knowledge transfer).

Here are the elements that make the highest-performing institution in a country stand out, according to THE:

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