Chinese universities broaden international outlook
BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Strategy is helping institutions achieve better rankings at home and abroad.
A veteran of such US universities as the University of Chicago and Yale University has become the first foreigner appointed by a Beijing university to a management position since the reform and opening-up policy was launched in 1978.
David Zupko was recently appointed deputy director of Tsinghua University’s global co-operation and communication office after working at different universities in the United States for more than 20 years.
Zupko has been hired to help implement Tsinghua’s globalisation strategy and will lead a team of teachers to make the university as international as possible, with the target of ensuring that international students and scholars do not encounter language or cultural barriers at the university as of next year, Beijing Youth Daily reported.
Zupko was quoted as saying a world-class university should be inclusive of different cultures, which was key to Tsinghua hiring him.
He illustrates the university’s continued internationalisation efforts. This strategy at many universities on the Chinese mainland has helped them to achieve better standings globally, as internationalisation is an important factor in university rankings.
In the latest QS World University Rankings published by higher education analyst QS Quacquarelli Symonds in London, six mainland universities made it into the world’s top 100.
Tsinghua is China’s highest-ranked university on the list, rising from 17th place last year to 16th. Peking University rose eight places to 22nd, with both achieving the best rankings since the list was first published in 2004.
Fudan University in Shanghai ranked third among mainland universities, up four places year-on-year and 31 places since 2015. Zhejiang University’s rankings rose 14 places to 54th.
QS ranked 1,000 universities from 82 countries and regions. They are measured on academic standing, graduate employability, student-to-staff ratio, research impact and internationalisation.
In his speech to celebrate Tsinghua’s 108th anniversary, Qiu Yong, the institution’s president, said it is embracing the vision of being a global university, as well as promoting and representing the development of higher education in China.
The university continues to further implement its global strategy, which strives to enhance the competence of its students worldwide, conduct high-end research for the benefit of both China and the world, promote international exchanges and co-operation, and strengthen its global impact, he said.
A more open Tsinghua will embrace the world, and the university has signed co-operation agreements with 285 universities and research institutes in 50 countries, Qiu added.
Last year, more than 16,000 faculty and students went abroad for visits and exchanges, and over 3,700 international students from 128 countries were studying at Tsinghua, he said.
It is not the only university pursuing a more globalised education, with neighbouring Peking University also recently announcing its Global Excellence Strategy, which aims to enhance international exchanges and co-operation, overcome development barriers, gather high-quality resources and stimulate collegial progress.
The strategy features six development concepts: creativity, leadership, openness, uniqueness, diversity and shaping, the university said.
The institution will continue to take part in exchanges and co-operation with other universities and the international community, fully respect, appreciate and care for the diversity of civilisation, and actively build a multicultural environment to attract global talent, it said.
The two universities’ global strategies are part of China’s continuing efforts to open up its education sector and attract more global talent to higher education institutions.
Last year, some 492,185 international students from 196 countries and regions studied in China, up by 0.62 per cent year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Education. Since 2014, China has been the destination in Asia for the largest number of international students.
The number of students pursuing academic education rose by 6.86 per cent year-on-year to 258,122 last year. Students studying for master’s and doctoral degrees rose by 12.28 per cent to 85,062, the ministry said.
Cheng Fangping, education professor at Renmin University of China, said, “International education co-operation and exchanges have been an important part of the nation’s education policies since reform and opening-up.”
This is driven by the opening-up policy and the nation’s efforts to become a higher education power globally, Cheng said.
The rise of the country’s universities in global rankings is not surprising, as no nation puts more resources into higher education than China, which is home to the world’s fastest-growing higher education system, in quality as well as quantity, he said.
In 2017, China launched the Double World-Class Project, which includes building world-class universities with Chinese characteristics and Chinese first-class disciplines at a global level. The aim is for the country to have 42 world-class universities and some 456 world-class disciplines in 95 universities by the middle of the century.
According to the plan, by 2050, the number of world-class Chinese universities and disciplines will have risen massively. They will be at the top of world-class rankings and China will have a strong higher education system.
The country spent more than 4.6 trillion yuan ($668 billion) on education nationwide last year, up by 8.39 per cent year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Education. More than 1.2 trillion yuan was spent on higher education, up by 8.15 per cent from the previous year and accounting for about 1.3 per cent of national GDP.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2018 “Education at a Glance” report, public spending on higher education in the US is 1.3 per cent of GDP. That is equal to public spending in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and higher than spending rates in Germany (1.2 per cent), France (1.2), Canada (1.2), Spain (1), Italy (0.8) and Japan (0.7).
This year, Tsinghua University received a budget of more than 29.7 billion yuan, ranking first among all mainland universities, and up from 26.9 billion yuan last year. Zhejiang University ranked second with 19.1 billion yuan and Peking University third with 19 billion yuan.
Chen Wei, an official at Peking University’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, said increased government investment in higher education means universities can hire good teachers globally and have more resources to invest in academic research. This in turn can raise their rankings globally, as academic standing and research impact are important factors in these rankings.
The rise up the rankings is also the result of numerous reforms conducted by universities in teaching and teacher evaluation, he said.
For example, university teachers used to have contracts for life unless they made serious mistakes. However, they now have to be assessed more often, and those that have not made progress academically within a certain period are fired, Chen said, adding that this has prompted teachers to focus more on academic research and an increase in the number of papers published.
According to a statement from QS, the higher education analysts, of the mainland’s 42 ranked universities, 32 have improved their performances for its Citations per Faculty indicator.
The country’s top 10 universities produced 428,191 research papers in the five-year period used by QS to assess research impact, while the top 10 universities in the US produced 443,996. This means that the output gap narrowed to 15,805 papers, while last year it was 37,233, it said.
Wu Libo, director of Fudan University’s planning office, said that according to Essential Science Indicators, a database that surveys more than 11,000 journals worldwide, the university this year published more than 3.7 times the number of papers it produced 10 years ago.
Citations this year were 9.2 times the number for 2009, she said, adding that the university last year published nearly 700 research papers in top journals, including Nature and Science.
According to ESI, Zhejiang University had eight disciplines at the very top of the leading 1,000 at the end of last year, ranking first among all mainland universities.
Wu Zhaohui, the university’s president, said it would focus more on originality and innovation in academic research to improve, make greater breakthroughs in cutting-edge technology and put forward China’s solutions to tackle technological bottlenecks.
However, Peking University’s Chen said universities should not only focus on rankings, as these cannot truly reflect their comprehensive strengths. They usually only consider papers published in English, and various rankings focus on different aspects, so one university may have different rankings in lists published by a number of organisations, he said.
Moreover, the number of papers alone cannot truly reflect academic achievement, as it takes a lot of time to make major technological breakthroughs and carry out original research, Chen said.
What is more important than rankings is for universities to have confidence in themselves and stick to their development strategy. As long as their overall strength improves, rankings become secondary, he added.