SHANGHAI - Harvard's endowment may have lost 30% of its value, but the university is still on top of the world.
The school is foremost among the 500 best universities around the globe, according to the seventh annual Academic Ranking of World Universities, published by the Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which was released this week at an education conference in Shanghai.
In Pictures: The World's Best Universities
To compile their rankings, researchers evaluated over 1,000 schools worldwide. Their criteria took into account major awards won by alumni and staff, the number of researchers widely cited in their fields, the number of researchers who author journal articles in Science and Nature, and the number of articles published by affiliates of a school that are recorded in the major bibliographical indexes of academic publications. A school's performance is weighted according to its size.Since the methodology is skewed toward institutions that prioritize research and boast strong science and engineering programs, the list is dominated by tech-heavy schools. Stanford, Berkeley, Cambridge and MIT round out the top five. Caltech, Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon also earn high marks.
North American schools dominate the list, winning 59 of the top 100 spots. Europe is home to 32 of the top 100, and Asia home to nine. The U.S. boasts more top schools than any other country, followed by the U.K., Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. No African or South American schools crack the top 100.
Experts say the improved performance of Asian schools on these lists is a good sign of improving educational infrastructure in the region. China's central government has publicly proclaimed ambitions to turn nine of its universities into its own version of the Ivy League. Yet many of the region's institutions are still struggling to attain the coveted "world-class" status awarded to many Western universities.
"It's going to take a rather long time for universities in Asia, maybe especially in China, to really get up there," said Philip G. Altbach, director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education, an attendee at the Shanghai conference. "And it's not only infrastructure. It's an academic culture; it's academic freedom; it's a way of organizing higher education in which they have some ways to go. You can only go so far with pouring money into it."
At the conference--which attracted professors, administrators and higher education officials from locales as far-flung as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Cameroon--Thomson Reuters analyst Weiping Yue presented research that quantified the astonishing growth in articles penned by academics at Chinese universities. In 1998, China's research output amounted to 20,000 papers; by 2008, that figure swelled to 112,000. (The total more than doubled between 2004 and 2008 alone.) That spike has buoyed China's placement in the rankings; Nanjing University, Peking University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University all placed high on the list.
A common criticism of the list raised by attendees at the conference was that counting citations of university researchers doesn't adequately illustrate the quality of classroom instruction. But defenders of the rankings note that there seems to be a correlation between the two.
"[The ranking] doesn't capture the quality of teaching and learning. However, if you look at these schools, they are great teaching schools," says Jamil Salmi, tertiary education coordinator at the World Bank, and a keynote speaker at the conference. "The teaching at Harvard is excellent. The student experience at Stanford is excellent. It doesn't mean these schools are good only because of their research."
Philip G. Altbach, director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education, pointed out that his own employer doesn't appear on Shanghai Jiao Tong's list because it doesn't have programs in engineering or medicine, two disciplines that typically encourage a high volume of publications.
"There are limitations to any rankings ... education is the fundamental mission of the university. But there is no comparable data available globally," said Nian Cai Liu, dean of Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Graduate School of Education, and one of the authors of the list. Earlier Tuesday, he addressed the distressed detractors: "You should focus on teaching, research, service--not any ranking position."