Published: 10:44, September 1, 2021 | Updated: 14:43, September 1, 2021
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Higher education
By Cheng Yuezhu

The improved standing of China's universities in a global ranking shows the progress made to narrow the gap between the nation's top institutions and their overseas counterparts, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

Students celebrate at their graduation ceremony at Tsinghua University in June. (YUAN YI / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Ranking of global universities shows that Chinese higher learning institutions have made significant progress in recent years, supported by China's plan to develop world-class universities and first-class disciplines.

The 2021 Academic Ranking of World Universities was released on Aug 15 by independent academic research organization ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, listing the best 1,000 universities in the world.

Understanding the gap between our universities and the world’s top universities means knowing how we can work toward narrowing it

Wang Lu, director, ShanghaiRanking Consultancy’s ranking projects

This year, rankings of domestic institutions continue to improve. A total of 157 universities from the Chinese mainland rank in the top 1,000, an increase of 13 compared to last year's statistics, and among them, 64 universities have risen to higher placements.

Seven universities from China's mainland rank in the top 100 this year, with Tsinghua University in 28th place and Peking University ranked 45th. Sun Yat-sen University from South China's Guangdong province made its first appearance in the top 100 in 89th place.

On a global scale, the top 10 universities remain stable. Harvard University tops the table for the 19th year. Stanford University and the University of Cambridge remain in 2nd and 3rd places, respectively.

The universities making up the top 10 are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University, University of Oxford, Columbia University, California Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago. The University of Oxford rose from 9th place last year to 7th spot.

Universities from the United States dominate this year's list, with 200 universities among the top 1,000, 129 of which are in the top 500 and 40 are in the top 100. The United Kingdom has 65 universities in the list, with 38 in the top 500 and eight in the top 100.

Based on the previous ARWU rankings, published annually since 2003, Chinese universities have been making steady advances in terms of international placement, showing marked improvements, especially since 2015.

An aerial view of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

In 2003, no university from the Chinese mainland made the top 200, and only nine universities appeared in the top 500.

From 2003 to 2015, that number has been increasing, but it wasn't until 2016 that two universities from the Chinese mainland, Tsinghua University and Peking University, entered the world's top 100 for the first time.

This year's ranking notes that the majority of Chinese universities listed are supported by the national Double First-Class initiative, aiming to develop world-class universities and first-class disciplines.

A general plan proposing the phased goals for the project was first issued in 2015 by the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Tourists and families of students gather at the west gate of Peking University in June. (HUANG YONG / FOR CHINA DAILY)

The project was put into motion in 2017 and the Ministry of Education, along with two other governmental entities, released a list of higher education institutions and disciplines to participate in the project.

The number of Chinese universities in the top 100 has been steadily increasing for the past four years, with an increase of one or two each year, and all of the entries are participants of the Double First-Class initiative.

Other universities involved in the project have also shown outstanding improvements. Yunnan University and Taiyuan University of Technology both jumped hundreds of places into the top 600 this year.

"The rapid development of Chinese universities is inseparable from the strategic decisions of our country, and also from the fact that the universities have generated their own clear directions of development," says Wang Lu, director of the consultancy's ranking projects.

The University of Science and Technology of China ranks 63rd in this year's Academic Ranking of World Universities by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy. (WANG JUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Wang says the ARWU rankings were first established as a set of systematic and scientific evaluation indicators, to find out the level of Chinese universities in the world. Each year's ARWU assesses more than 2,000 universities from around the world and a list of the top 1,000 is published.

The ranking system boasts a consistent methodology of basing the rankings on six indicators-the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and the Fields Medal, the number of articles published in the journals of Nature and Science, the number of highly cited researchers, articles published in international journals, and per capita faculty performance.

"Understanding the gap between our universities and the world's top universities means knowing how we can work toward narrowing it. I believe that, in the near future, as Chinese universities continue to advance, the good universities will become excellent, and those already excelling will rise to the top," Wang says.

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