Executive Education

Changing Winds? The Rise of Asian Universities in International Rankings

A building in the university campus of Bombay

Historically speaking, the universities in the west have dominated the Higher Education space. Talented students from the relatively less developed regions in other parts of the world, particularly Asia, would travel to the west to pursue quality education. The migration was driven not by simple fascination towards the fast-paced modern life awaiting across the ocean; the universities in the west, offered everything there was, to sustain a high-impact academic and professional career. Things, however, are beginning to change and this is reflected in the rise of the Asian universities in international rankings.

A decade ago, Asian universities barely made it to the top 200. Only those with a long history of origin and/or association with institutions in the west could be found scrambling their way up among the elites from the other side. These include the National University of Singapore, Tokyo University, and a group of elite universities together called the C9 League schools that saw just a couple of its universities including the formidable Tsinghua University make it to the top 100, Even universities from southeast Asian countries such as India barely managed to make a scratch. So, what has triggered a change in the winds?

There are causal factors from both sides. While the West struggles with rising student loans, tuition fee hikes, tighter controls on funds, and an expensive lifestyle, Asia is experimenting with every resource it has and taking a gamble worth it all. The focus has been to keep the migrating population of talented scholars in the country, and this can only be done through heavy investment and large-scale advertising (quite often politically driven).

Take China, for instance, which has painstakingly curated a team of elite universities and fashioned them the way Ivy League schools are. Special treatment is extended to these universities including assignment of national projects and preferential treatment to graduates in professional lives. Its researchers are already among the highest cited in the world. Similarly, in order to attract international students, Malaysia allocated 20% of its national budget to the education sector. South Korea, which is now among the fastest-growing countries in the world, invested as much as $12 billion in the recent past to promote selective university programs and undertake extensive research projects.

A key factor that contributes effectively to the popularity of the universities in the west is reduced linguistic barriers. The traditional favorites, the United States and the United Kingdom, still top the charts for many reasons including linguistic accessibility. These linguistic barriers have often affected the decision of prospective students to pursue education in Asia since most countries over there administer courses in the local language. Things have been changing in the past few years. For example, southeast Asian universities in India and the Philippines already administer most of their degree and diploma courses in English. The Japanese which have been quite rigid against the transition to more commonly spoken languages have shown signs of relent. Taiwan has already established itself as a very friendly destination for international students.

The rise of Asian universities can potentially change the power dynamics in the long run. The universities in the west had found their backbone in the pool of talented individuals, who disillusioned by the limited resources and opportunities in Asia, traveled all the way to the other parts of the world. But, Asia was quick in realizing that brain drain is a gigantic loss to growth and must be contained. Simultaneously, the west became complacent and underestimated the potential of the Asian universities in changing the long-established status quo. The wave of nationalism and the raging pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down has damaged the balance and Asian universities have surely found the requisite room to sashay their capabilities to stand at par with those in the west.

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Anna Papadopoulos
Anna Papadopoulos is a senior money, wealth, and asset management reporter at CEOWORLD magazine, covering consumer issues, investing and financial communities + author of the CEOWORLD magazine newsletter, writing about money with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. You can follow CEOWORLD magazine on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or connect on LinkedIn for musings on money, wealth, asset management, millionaires, and billionaires. Email her at info@ceoworld.biz.