by Md Suhaile
NATIONAL University of Singapore is now the 26th ranked university globally and the best in Asia, at least according to the Times Higher Education World University Ranking (Times). The title was previously held by Tokyo University, which surprisingly plunged from a global rank of 23 to 43 in just one year. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) did well, rising six places to claim the 55th spot globally.
Tokyo down, Singapore up. Is there anything more to it?
We think so. In fact Times has changed how it’s evaluating these universities. First, it surveyed a lot more people about the universities after it expanded the number of languages in which the surveys are conducted from 9 to 15. It also doubled its rankings list, from 400 to 800. But perhaps most notably, it changed its research database provider from Thomson Reuters to Elsevier’s Scopus. (Could this be why Reuters decided to come up with their own university rankings?) Consequently, the Times was able to assess 11 million research papers this year as opposed to 6 million from last year – again, nearly double.
This particular point is significant for two reasons.
First, Times scores performance in five broad areas with different weightage given to each: teaching (30 per cent), research (30 per cent), citations (30 per cent), international outlook (7.5 per cent) and industry income (2.5 per cent). Note the weightage attached to research and citations. Second, the vast increase in number of papers assessed means that previously unaccounted for citations are now included.
Since the weightage for the categories have not changed, this means while the ranking has not put more emphasis on research, its assessment of the universities’ quality of research work now is arguably more refined.
Tokyo University maintained performance standards in all categories except in citations – where its score plunged from 74.7 to 60.9. On the other hand, both NUS and NTU improved their research and citation scores significantly. For Citations: NUS leaped from 66.0 to 79.4 points while NTU improved from 75.9 to 85.6 points. This is probably one reason why NTU was able to leapfrog the competition – this was also mentioned in the papers today when NTU president Bertil Andersson said: “We are focused on our fundamentals – to create a world-class environment for learning, teaching and research.”
NUS has the same idea. The school’s tagline says it seeks to change the way “people think and do things through education, research and service”.
The marked improvements by the two universities in the latest edition of Times bodes well, of course. But as many people have pointed out, us included, no ranking list will ever be exhaustive or sufficiently nuanced to fully capture the value of any universities – whether it be based on research quality, innovation, or other scholarly metrics. Including Singapore’s. That, we’ll have to decide for ourselves.
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