The university systems of East Asia and Singapore will soon rival those of North-western Europe, even if China is removed from the equation, according to University of Melbourne higher education expert Simon Marginson.
Professor Marginson said high-profile research universities in East Asia, particularly small nations such as Hong Kong and Singapore, “stacked up” against the best in continental Europe. He said that while Asian universities posed a growing competitive threat to Australia’s international education industry, they were also obvious potential collaborators.
And the time had come for Australian institutions to re-evaluate their approach to international partnerships “whereby we don’t instinctively go to the English speaking world and Western Europe first – we think about Asia equally”. “We can look at them as competitors and say we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to think about how to lift our game,” Professor Marginson said.
“But we can also look at them as partners, and say there’s plenty of opportunity to work with high quality research people in Asia. “We should be looking to find the right synergies – points where we’re strong and they’re weaker, and points where both are already advanced and can do better by pooling resources. Either way, it offers opportunities for collaboration.”
Professor Marginson has identified the region’s medium to large universities with good research quality, in order to pinpoint the institutions he considers “competitors with favourable potential as collaborators”. They include 10 universities in China, six in Australia, five in Hong Kong, two in South Korea and one each in Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand.
All 28 universities satisfy benchmarks for both size and quality, publishing more than 3000 science papers over a five-year period, with at least 10 per cent of those papers among the 10 per cent most cited in their fields. Professor Marginson described the list, based on Thomson-ISI data, as a broad benchmarking exercise. “You need to start looking at disciplines to really know what the opportunities are,” he said.
But he said Korea and Hong Kong had high-quality specialist science and technology institutions unlike anything in Australia. Korea also had excellent private sector universities “quite unusual anywhere outside the US”.
Japan’s focus on developing very large institutions had occurred at some cost of quality, but they excelled in physical sciences and engineering. And Singapore performed well on both quantity and quality, particularly the National University of Singapore.
Hong Kong had medium sized universities which provided excellent environments for both teaching and research. “In all round terms there are very few better systems in the world,” Professor Marginson said.
“On present trends we’ll see those East Asian and Singapore players, in aggregate, will be at North-west European levels within the next five to ten years. “You’ve got Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium on one side; on the other you’ve got Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong – and of course the extra element is China.”
Professor Marginson said Chinese universities performed well in the physical sciences, materials and particularly engineering and chemistry, in which they produced many of the world’s very top papers. He said the citation rates of China’s best universities was particularly creditable given the country’s generally low level of English. “Clearly the Chinese are going to have a large number of high quality universities.”
Professor Marginson said China needed to meet challenges such as sustaining research funding, strengthening basic research and convincing its top overseas researchers – particularly in the US – to come home. But China will look to the US as its natural competitor, he said. “They’re putting even more money into industry-related research than the US, because they want to draw the economic benefits of research and development.
“If they can keep building, they could clearly have a large number of universities in the top 200 in the world, and approach the scale and impact of the American system.”
Competitors with favourable potential as collaborators
CHINA: Fudan University, Jilin University, Lanzhou University, Nanjing University, Nankai University, Peking University, Sun Yat-sen University, Tsinghua University, Wuhan University, University of Science and Technology of China
HONG KONG: Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of Hong Kong
JAPAN: Tokyo University
NEW ZEALAND: University of Auckland
SINGAPORE: Nanyang Technology University, National University of Singapore
SOUTH KOREA: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Pohang University of Science and Technology
TAIWAN: National Tsinghua University
AUSTRALIA: Australian National University, Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, University of Sydney
The listed institutions published over 3000 science papers between 2005 and 2009, with over 10 per cent of all their science papers within the 10 per cent most cited in their fields. Source: Leiden University Centre for Science and Technology Studies, 2011. (Data from Thomson-ISI)