Asian universities seen moving up further in int'l rankings

Date:   Reviews:922

SINGAPORE, March 22 (Xinhua) -- 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 are 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.


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.


Tan said he also shared at the forum how NUS has been responding nimbly to the changes of the world.

He said that the NUS has moved up the rankings fast thanks to consistent government support, a good management team that made it possible to attract the best faculty, and the global orientation it established at a very early stage.

"One of the things we discussed is that attracting, nurturing talent is not an end in itself. It's the means to an end. What is the end? the means is really excellence. Excellence in teaching. Excellence in research. Excellence in contributing to discoveries that have an impact on our society," he said.

NUS inherited a British management system where the students are encouraged to be very specialized in their field of studies. But Tan said that the university has made its education much more broader over the past fifteen years.

This is because the world is becoming much more complex, he said.

The workers in public health, for instance, should not only have knowledge about medical subjects, but also have good training in social sciences and management as well.

Another reason is that the pattern of work is changing.

"In the past many graduates would do only two jobs, three jobs, during the lifetime of their career. Nowadays, in the U.S. at least, people, before they are 40, would have done ten jobs. And these jobs can be different sectors," Tan said.

Some of the Chinese universities are making similar efforts. Nanjing University, which has said it aims to offer the best undergraduate programs, gives its students broad training in the first year and allow the students to choose for themselves from three different paths in their final year, such as further studies in their specialties, inter-disciplinary studies, or preparing themselves for their jobs or entrepreneurial efforts.


Tan said that NUS succeeded by combining a great vision and a good management team that allows the vision to be realized.

The NUS established its vision to be a global university centered in Asia. It now sends close to 70 percent of its students abroad through various exchange programs.

Chen Jun also said he is impressed by the very diverse faculty of NUS with about half of the members from overseas. "It is like putting the students in an international environment without even going abroad," he said.

NUS collaborated recently with Yale University to establish a liberal arts college with a focus on Asia.

Looking ahead, Tan said it will be more and more important for the students to be effective across cultures.

"For a small country like Singapore, this is even more important because many of our graduates will work with people from all around the world, in multi-national companies, or they may be working overseas," he said.


Tan said he was impressed by the clarity of the visions the Chinese university leaders have for their own universities.

Chen Jun, the president of Nanjing University, said that what the Chinese universities need the most include the best talent as well as the knowledge in the management of top universities.

"The Chinese universities have relatively short histories, after all, and our social development is obviously behind our economic growth. This is where we need to work hard on next," said Chen, a geochemistry professor-turned university president.

He said the university leaders do not plan their work based the rankings, though it can be a reflection of the progress made by a university. It is impossible for some of the efforts, especially the work in social sciences, to be reflected in the rankings, he said.

Chen also said that Nanjing University now gives about 30 percent of its students opportunities on overseas trips, but it is impossible to raise the figure to a level comparable to NUS, given different contexts in China and Singapore.

"We have to be international in order to be good at an era of globalization. Nevertheless, China should be careful not to lose its own cultural traditions," he said.

He also said that China should try to avoid all the technical education institutions upgrading in a hurry to universities with a focus on research. The programs offered by the tertiary education institutions should be diverse and in line with the need of the national and provincial economies, he said




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