September 11 this year, the results of the World University Rankings 2020 were published, providing information that gives some stability to the academic community and the hope that higher education in the world is still developing in the global environment, overcomes crisis phenomena with more or less success, and affects the future of humanity, however vague it may seem. The five best universities have maintained their positions, except that they have slightly changed places. Oxford is still in first place, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which was the fifth last year, moved up to the second position, thus moving all the following universities one position lower – Cambridge from 2 to 3, Stanford University from 3 to 4, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 4 to 5 [THE World University Rankings, 2019a].
Stability and a strong position of leaders do not mean that new universities can’t enter the world elite. Just look at the list of the top 200 universities to find that noticeable changes have occurred in this group. Despite the fact that most of the groups are American (60 universities, a year earlier there were 63) and British (28, there were 34) higher education institutions, Germany (23), Australia, and the Netherlands (both 11), Canada, China and Switzerland (each with 7 universities). The most notable progress is being shown by Chinese universities. Thus, five Chinese universities that ranked between 200 and 350 five years ago are now among the elite 200, and six others are in the 400 group [Bothwell, 2019a]. It should be noted that in the Times Higher Education ranking, each university is evaluated in five categories, covering the main tasks of all global excellent universities: Teaching, Research, Research Influence, Innovation, and International Outlook.
The Ranking system is needed not only for universities to compare and determine their role, place, directions for further development, but also for students and parents to choose a university, obtain objective information about the quality of teaching, research, innovation, and atmosphere in various educational institutions. For analysts, it provides an opportunity to understand and identify those factors that most positively affect the progress of a particular university and the education system as a whole.
As it turned out, the secrets of success are quite diverse. Therefore, quantitative indicators do not explain Caltech’s position growth, since it is a very small university in terms of world standards; only 2,240 students are studying there and 349 teaching researchers work. The university leaders were able to focus on the most relevant areas: interdisciplinarity and cooperation. This means that all members of a small team can join groups for research on interests, for example, a biologist, IT specialist and mechanical engineer get together in one laboratory and provide the highest level of research in selected areas, but in those where the university can become a world leader. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech Seismological Laboratory, and the International Observatory Network are internationally renowned. Among graduates and professors of the California Institute of Technology, there are 35 Nobel laureates and winners of the 71 US National Medal of Science or Technology [Times Higher Education, 2019a].
Over the past year, Chinese universities have improved their citation indicators, the share of international staff, and the share of international co-authors, thanks to increased government funding. For the fourth consecutive year, China is the fourth most represented nation in the ranking of universities in the world: 81 institutes compared with 100 British, 110 Japanese and 172 American.
The Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore has also climbed three positions thanks to the generous funding of the Singapore government and innovative efforts to develop technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, 3D printing, and big data – these are all areas where NTU has become a world leader. The knowledge gained and the research performed are translated into industry or community applications. For this reason, Rolls-Royce, Alibaba, HP, and Volvo Buses are eager to invest in NTU research and conduct on-campus testing [Bothwell, 2019b].
With relatively modest public funding for university education in Germany, especially compared to its Chinese counterparts, the new government program “Strategy of Excellence”, which allows attracting international staff and collaborating more on international level, establishing joint research centers, can explain the success of a strong group of German universities, which are among the top 200. Professional teams were created, aimed at analyzing ratings and developing improvement strategies, which also played an important role in increasing the number of research grants from the European Union received by German universities and academics. Also, there is one more point that is important. Regardless of the subject that interests students, they can study their degree in English in Germany. LMU Munich, one of the country’s oldest universities, affiliated with 42 Nobel laureates, pays great attention to the natural sciences, carrying out world-leading research, discoveries and innovations [Times Higher Education, 2019b].
Danish universities that have experienced annual cuts in funding by 2% since 2016 are nevertheless trying to attract high-ranking researchers. Over the past 10 years, the number of international researchers at the University of Copenhagen, for example, has increased from 18 to 38 %. A continuing education program for multidisciplinary research was also developed and invested, which spawned 18 multidisciplinary sustainable development projects such as climate change and global health, which attracted significant EU funding.
Among the universities of Kazakhstan, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University entered the World University Rankings 2020 in the group 1001+. Russian higher education is represented by 25 universities, among which, naturally, the leader is Lomonosov Moscow State University (189th place), as well as the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (in the group 201–250), Higher School of Economics (251–300) [THE World University Rankings, 2019b]. Low positions of Kazakhstani universities are probably because in our country higher education is predominantly massive, while universities that occupy the highest positions in the ranking are mainly elitist in nature. It is clear that massiveness threatens the quality of higher education, while the reduction of grants at universities limits social justice and the possibility of social or economic development.
What conclusions can be drawn from the success stories of world leaders in higher education? First of all, education requires investment, in a variety of forms, whether public funding or grants from organizations or individuals; in any case, to expect high and quick results, as the example of China shows, we can only after a deliberate “infusion of finances” into the group of the most promising universities in the country, which will allow them to focus on key areas and parameters of educational activity. This is possible, of course, if the country sets the goal of developing higher education as a priority.
Bothwell, E., (2019a). THE World University Rankings 2020: China powers up. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/world-university-rankings-2020-china-powers. Accessed on 10. 10.2019.
Bothwell, E., (2019b). THE World University Rankings 2020: reaching critical mass. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/world-university-rankings-2020-reaching-critical-mass. Accessed on 07. 10.2019.
THE World University Rankings. (2019a). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats. Accessed on 07. 10.2019.
THE World University Rankings. (2019b). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2020/world-ranking#!/page/0/length/25/locations/RU/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats. Accessed on 10. 10.2019.
Times Higher Education. (2019a). California Institute of Technology. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/california-institute-technology. Accessed on 07. 10.2019.
Times Higher Education. (2019b). Best universities in Germany 2020. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/best-universities-germany. Accessed on 10. 10.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.