Asia has a wide range of universities with top academics which is now given a crown in Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2017.
China is one of the standout performers: Tsinghua University enters the top 15 for the first time, jumping four places to 14th, while Peking University makes its debut in the top 20, climbing four places to 17th.
They overtake leading universities in the US and the UK including Imperial College London, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University.
Meanwhile, the University of Hong Kong features in the top 40 for the first time in five years after climbing six places to 39th, ahead of King’s College London, the University of British Columbia and LMU Munich.
Elsewhere in Asia, the University of Tokyo now has a stronger reputation than Columbia University, according to the table, while Seoul National University is considered more prestigious than the University of California, Davis.
Top universities in Belgium, France and the Netherlands have also lost ground as universities in Asia have become more prominent brands on the global stage.
The World Reputation Rankings are based on an invitation-only opinion survey of senior, published academics, who were asked to name no more than 15 universities that they believe are the best for research and teaching in their field, based on their own experience.
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However, the results of the latest THE World University Rankings, which largely measures research performance, suggest that there is a gap between the perceived and actual performance of the continent’s top universities. Asia’s universities do not feature as highly in this list, despite recent improvements.
Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education, said that there is “no doubt that the reputation of China’s top two universities has run ahead of their actual achievements”.
“The achievements are remarkable but uneven. In terms of high citation research in mathematics and complex computing, Tsinghua is now number one in the world, ahead of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and it is fourth in physical sciences and engineering. Yet Tsinghua is much less strong in research in medicine, [the] social sciences and humanities,” he said.
But Professor Marginson rejected the notion that China’s universities have been overhyped and predicted that the performance of the country’s top institutions will soon catch up with their growing prestige.
“Such is the rate of improvement that their reputation today is likely to be chased down by their real performance tomorrow,” he said.
Zhou Zhong, associate professor in comparative and international education at Tsinghua University, said that China’s determination to develop world-class universities through a number of excellence initiatives since the 1980s is a key factor in its success.
He added that Tsinghua’s rising reputation was partly due to several major “scientific and technological breakthroughs in recent years”, which have “drawn wide attention across the world to some of Tsinghua’s core strengths in big science”.
“Improved research infrastructure and, very strategically, the newly developed tenure system have all helped to both pull and push the academics to develop a publish or perish culture,” he said.