Chinese universities climb World Reputation Rankings while Hong Kong suffers

By Ryan Kilpatrick, March 12, 2015

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Times Higher Education (THE) released their World Reputation Rankings 2015 yesterday, revealing some big gains on the part of Chinese universities.

Beijing's Tsinghua and Peking Universities climbed from 36th to 26th and 41st to 32nd respectively in the latest ranking. THE Rankings editor Phil Baty said that "this is a strong performance by China. Its two leading institutions have made gains in the reputation rankings, reflecting the country's commitment to developing world-class universities."

Hong Kong and Taiwan's institutes of higher learning did not fair so well, however. The University of Hong Kong (HKU) slipped out of the top 50 for the first time in years, and the University of Science and Technology also slipped and the Chinese University of Hong Kong disappeared from the top 100 altogether. National Taiwan University, meanwhile, went from the 51-60 group down to 61-70.

A THE spokesperson said it was "reasonable to speculate" that the suppression of last year's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement exposed challenges in the city’s integration with China, and made academics worry about the extent to which academic freedom can continue to be maintained there. Recently, Chief Executive CY Leung was also accused of directly interfering in the election of HKU's pro-vice-chancellors after pro-democracy law professor Johannes Chan emerged as a forerunner.

However, the relatively high positions afforded to mainland academies suggests that evaluators may not in fact have been all that concerned with principles of academic freedom.

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Baty explained that the strength of Hong Kong universities was their combination of British academic traditions like academic freedom along with "a fantastic link with the best attributes of the Chinese system," but hinted that that freedom is "not as straightforward as it used to be."

THE's World Reputation Rankings differ from their World University Rankings in that rely on a survey of academics worldwide to assess how they perceive various universities. 11 percent of the scholars surveyed were mainland Chinese - the second-largest national group after Americans. Japanese scholars represented the third-largest group.

At 12th place worldwide, the University of Tokyo was the highest ranking university from Asia - apparently unmarred by revelations of widespread academic fraud. The top ten consisted exclusively of British and American universities.

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