The positions of three Hong Kong universities improved in a global ranking compiled by a Britain-based publication, with Polytechnic University shooting up 42 places in the list despite last year’s anti-government protests, which briefly turned its campus into a fiery battleground.
The University of Hong Kong, however, dropped four places in the rankings to become the world’s 39th-best university – while keeping its place as the highest-ranked local institution – in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. The fall came after HKU achieved a seven-year high in last year’s rankings.
Tsinghua University, in mainland China, remained the highest-ranked Asian institution, climbing by three spots to 20th place globally, followed by Peking University at 23rd. Tsinghua was the first institution in Asia to break into the top 20 since 2011.
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The National University of Singapore was ranked third-highest in Asia, maintaining its position at 25th overall. A total of 16 Asian universities made it into the top 100, the highest number on record in the annual rankings 17-year history.
The latest edition, released on Wednesday, covered more than 1,500 higher education institutions from 93 countries and regions, with universities assessed on 13 sets of indicators, including quality of teaching and learning, research strength and number of citations, as well as international outlook, which takes into account the proportion of international students and staff.
Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, which began last June in opposition to the now-withdrawn extradition bill, saw several university campuses occupied by protesters in November. The most violent clashes took place at Chinese and Polytechnic universities, with the latter enduring a 13-day siege as protesters inside threw petrol bombs and even shot arrows at advancing police.
Nonetheless, Chinese University (CUHK) rose from 57th to 56th in the latest THE rankings, while Polytechnic University (PolyU) surged from 171st to 129th, a result researchers said was driven by a significant increase in citations, or the number of times its research was referenced in international papers.
City University maintained its ranking of 126th, while the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) saw a drop from 47th to 56th, tying with CUHK. Baptist University, which was included in the 401-500 class in 2020, also improved to join the 351-400 class.
A Times Higher Education spokesman, meanwhile, said the impact of the anti-government protests on Hong Kong universities’ rankings was “unclear”.
“We’re still not clear whether this is having an impact on the strength of [the] universities,” he said.
“This is partly due to our data collection cycle, which has not, in large parts, captured 2019 and 2020 yet. Some of the reputation data used this year is from a survey that covers 2019 and early 2020.”
In recent months, some local academics and critics have raised concerns over restrictions on academic freedom and research at Hong Kong universities following the implementation on June 30 of the sweeping national security law.
However, THE said it expected it would “not be possible” to prove the effect of a single event on future rankings, particularly given that the law’s implementation also overlapped with the potential knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A PolyU spokeswoman, meanwhile, called the leap in rankings “very encouraging”, saying the university would seek to continue to elevate education and research performance in the face of various challenges.
HKU said in a statement that it strived to provide quality education, as well as teaching and research excellence, adding that it “firmly believes” its “commitment to being Asia’s global university will enhance our international reputation”.
HKUST and Baptist University said they would take the rankings as a reference for improvements, while Chinese and City universities only said they would continue to strive for excellence in teaching and research output.
British and American universities continued to occupy the top spots in world rankings, with the University of Oxford maintaining the No 1 position, and Stanford and Harvard rising to second and third, respectively.
More from South China Morning Post:
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- Hong Kong ranks fourth on list of most expensive places in Asia to employ expats, with cost per person nearing US$300,000