China dominates list of top universities in Asia

China dominates list of top universities in Asia
In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018, China and Hong Kong emerged as key players. According to the list, three of the top ten institutions in Asia..

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018, China and Hong Kong emerged as key players. According to the list, three of the top ten institutions in Asia are in Hong Kong, while almost one in five of the top hundred institutions in Asia is Chinese. Overall, this year has seen a dominance of East and South East Asia in the rankings of higher institutions of education.


The Times Higher Education World University Rankings is a list of university rankings published annually since 2004 by the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine. Initially established in collaboration with Quacquarelli Symonds as the THE-QS World University Rankings, the publication broke away in 2010 to print its own rankings.

THE World University Rankings are divided into overall, subject, and reputation rankings, as well as rankings by region for 3 parts of the world:  Asia, Latin America, and BRICS and Emerging Economies. The rankings use 13 performance indicators covering 5 “missions”: teaching or learning environment (30%); research, including the amount, income, and reputation of the same (30%); citations, meant to indicate the impact of the university’s research (32.5%); international outlook, including both international staff and students (5%); and industry income or staff income from research (2.5%).


The National University of Singapore took 1st place on the Asian region list for the third year in a row, while Nanyang Technological University (NTU) dropped one place to 5th.

Hong Kong drew attention this year for having 3 universities in the top 10: the University of Hong Kong which went up one point to 4th, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology at 5th, and Chinese University (Hong Kong) which debuted on the list at 7. With this, Hong Kong became the most represented territory on the list. Phil Baty, editorial director of global rankings at THE, described this as an “extraordinary achievement” for a city with a population of only 7 million. However Baty also noted that there has been an increasing gap between these elite universities and second-tier institutions.

Meanwhile, Chinese universities Tsinghua University and Peking University placed at 2nd and 3rd. Including special administrative region Hong Kong, China has 5 of the top 10, and 30 of the top 100. Baty notes that Mainland China is the 6th most represented nation in the top 200 institutions; THE notes that the main trend this year is “the continued rise of China”. THE article on the results lauded China as “lodestar and exemplar”. Almost one in five of Asia’s top institutions is Chinese.

Baty credits this to their 20-year commitment to raise standards. Beijing has expressed its intent to better its universities in order to be Asia’s top destination for education, aiming for the enrolment 500,000 international students a year by 2020, according to Forbes. China changed its visa policy in 2017 with a new “Foreign Work Permit”, intended to invite international professionals as well.  

The University of Tokyo, Seoul National University, and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology took places at 8th, 9th, and 10th on the list.

This year’s list sees that East Asia houses three fifths of the top universities, asserting its position as the “dominant region”. Other commentators have also observed the commitment of East and South-East Asian nations such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia in dedicating state resources to higher education. “Universities in Asia have arguably undergone the most radical changes since the early 2000s compared with institutions in any other continent,” Futao Huang at Hiroshima University told THE.

Singapore, for example, in its most recent budget, invested 18%-- a total of 4 billion Singaporean Dollars (or just over 3 billion USD) for its Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2020 Plan, which is estimated to cost a total of 19.1 billion Singaporean Dollars. This made it the world’s top investor in research development per capita, according to president of NTU, Subra Suresh.

India has 42 institutions in the Asia rankings as opposed to last year’s 33 which Baty called a “fantastic achievement”. However while representation has improved, rankings of several universities have fallen. "South Asia will need to work hard to stand out among the heavy competition in the world's largest continent," Baty said. 


Our assessment is that the latest university rankings indicate the continued advance of East and South-East Asia in the global narrative, in more spaces than economy. A number of these countries have invested large percentages of their GDP into the development of educational institutes. We believe that these countries, China in particular, are intent on transforming themselves into internationally-recognised hubs for research and learning.