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Asian universities seen moving up further in international rankings

National University of Singapore

National University of Singapore

The Asian universities are already starting to move up the international rankings quickly and are expected to rise further, driven by the huge amount of resources going to them and the increasing amount of research they are doing, leaders of some of the top universities said.

Speaking with Xinhua on the sidelines of a forum in Singapore on university management, the university presidents and deans said that the amount of resources going to the universities in Asia are more than what is happening anywhere else in the world, a reflection of the fast economic growth in Asia.

The reputation of the top universities in Asia is expected to rise, too, as more and more of their graduates become leaders across the different sectors, said Tan Chorh Chuan, president of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“In the top universities, the quality of the students is so high. And these students are growing up and becoming leaders in different sectors,” he said.

Some of the university leaders at the Program for Leadership in University Management (PLUM) agreed.

Chen Jun, president of China’s Nanjing University, said he saw a “fundamental change” in the amount of resources going to the Chinese universities compared with what they had in the past, though they may not be as rich as the Singaporean universities. Even some of those coming back from overseas universities are amazed by the changes in the Chinese universities, he said.

“I am confident about the prospects of our universities, as we are getting significantly more funding support,” he said. “We are developing the word’s largest education sector in China. It was absolutely beyond us. Now at least we can think about it.”

Wang Shuguo, president of Harbin Institute of Technology, a top university with a strong engineering focus, also outlined rosy plans for the growth of the university in China’s northeastern city of Harbin. China spent about 4 percent of its gross domestic product on education last year, achieving a goal that was set years earlier.

The world’s most populated country has about 2,000 universities and other tertiary education institutions. The number of graduates coming out of universities each year has increased from 1.14 million in 2001 to close to 7 million in 2013.

Nanjing University, like many of the other top universities in China, has been moving up the international rankings.

The universities in Singapore, led by the National University of Singapore, have been climbing up the international rankings very fast in recent years, too. The NUS is edging close to the top 20 universities worldwide and is now among the top three in Asia.

Tan said it would be “harder and harder” for a university to go further up as it edges close to the top 20 worldwide, given that other universities competing for the positions are well- established. 

Institutional cross learning

The five-day PLUM forum, jointly organized by the National University of Singapore and the Temasek Foundation, concluded on Friday. It gathered presidents, vice presidents and deans from 15 top universities from the Chinese mainland as well as the president of the National University of Singapore.

Tan said it is an important initiative for institutional cross learning, as the Asian universities share many of the common challenges in a globalized world. The presidents from universities in Southeast Asia were invited last year, while as this year the Chinese university chiefs are invited to the forum.

“It’s really because Asia is developing very rapidly. If you look at the world today, the largest investment in education are being made in Asia. Where new programs are being established, the importance of managing them well is amplified,” Tan said.

The forum gathered about 60 university leaders; a size Tan said would allow the presidents and deans to have effective dialogues.

Both Tan and Li Yansong, vice president of Peking University, said it is a good opportunity to share the challenges and best practices in university management and governance.

The Chinese university leaders, including Zhang Jie, president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, also used the opportunity to discuss with their colleagues potential cooperation and collaborations and even tried to woo talents from Singapore.

“I think this is the start of a conversation,” Tan said, adding that he was impressed by the willingness of the Chinese university leaders to learn from the best practices of other universities, even though many of these universities are well-known.

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