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Chinese universities rise in global rankings, could outpace U.S.
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‘America can no longer take for granted its decades-long dominance…China [is] leading the challenge,’ ratings expert said

Chinese research universities have ascended in global rankings as some of their Western peers move down the list, according to this year’s World University Rankings, released by Times Higher Education, a British publication that rates universities globally.

One expert, a former professor in China, said that Chinese universities have improved at a faster rate than American universities.

China’s rise “is due to the improvement of Chinese universities and not the decline of US universities,” Christopher Balding, a former associate professor at Fulbright University Vietnam, told The College Fix on November 18. Balding has expertise in the Chinese economy, business and financial markets and taught for nine years at the HSBC Business School of Peking University Graduate School in Shenzhen, China.

“That was a major policy focus in China from spending enormous sums of money on universities and students to funding enormous growth in research,” Balding wrote. “This is about the improvement in Chinese universities.”

The World University Rankings are based on 13 “carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook,” according to Times Higher Education

The United States and the United Kingdom still top the list. American universities occupied seven of the first 10 spots and Britain took three, with Oxford University taking top place and Harvard University taking second, according to the publication.

However,  U.S. universities in the top 100 fell from 43 to 34 between 2018 and this year, Times Higher Education reported. The number of universities on the list from mainland China more than tripled, from two to seven. Top among them is Beijing’s Tsinghua University (pictured), ranked 16 overall, ahead of Cornell University, UCLA, NYU, The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and many other American universities.

These Chinese schools “are on the rise, producing a greater quantity and higher quality of research than ever before,” The Wall Street Journal reported in October.

“The data is very clear: America can no longer take for granted its decadeslong dominance of world higher education and research, and it is China that is leading the challenge,” Phil Baty, Times Higher Education Rankings editor, told The Journal.  “If current trends remained the same, we would see China overtaking the U.S. in the coming years.”

China is catching up to the U.S. or outpacing it in several areas

“In 2021, American research and development fell to a 70-year low as a percentage of the federal budget,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

A paper published in March 2022 in the journal Scientometrics determined that “China has overtaken the U.S. as the world leader in scientific research output of ‘high impact’ studies,” according to The Journal. 

In contrast, “China spent $526 billion on research and development in 2019, according to data from the National Science Foundation,” The Journal reported. “It was still lagging behind the U.S., where R&D expenditure totaled $656 billion, but China has been closing the gap, increasing its spending by an average of 10.6% annually from 2010 to 2019.”

“China also increased its share of international patents to 49% in 2020, up from 16% a decade earlier, while the U.S. share declined from 15% to 10% in the same period,” according to The Journal. 

China has also been producing more academic papers than the U.S. that are in the top one percent most cited globally. “China surpassed Europe in high-quality research in 2015 and the U.S. in 2019,” according to The Journal. 

“The top-1% most-highly-cited articles are watched closely as the vanguards of the sciences,” according to the Scientometrics paper’s abstract. “Using Web of Science data, one can find that China had overtaken the USA in the relative participation in the top-1% (PP-top1%) in 2019, after outcompeting the EU on this indicator in 2015.”

In particular, “China outperforms the US in the field of Business and Finance,” according to the paper.

“It was a real surprise,” Caroline Wagner, a co-author of the paper and a professor at Ohio State University, told The Wall Street Journal. 

“The work coming out of China is getting better,” Wagner stated. “We are now seeing China able to produce that kind of quality work and they are doing it at scale.”

MORE: Nearly $170M in contracts and gifts flowed to U.S. universities from China in 2021

IMAGE: EQRoy/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Connor Buss -- Saint Louis University in Missouri