Asia University Rankings 2024: results announced

Updated methodology reveals previously underappreciated research strength in some Asian countries, reports Rosa Ellis

April 30, 2024
A young girl carrying granite blocks in China to illustrate Hidden strengths
Source: Gerhard Joren/LightRocket/Getty Images

Browse the full results of the Asia University Rankings 2024

For decades now, the rise of Asian universities has been one of the biggest stories in global higher education. In this edition of the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings, some of the trends fuelling the advances are put in sharp relief by our revised and improved methodology.

The ever-improving strength of China’s research output and its impact on the wider region could prove to be a real tectonic shift. Another significant highlight is the growth of regional powerhouses when it comes to working with industry, as well as hints that more Asian countries are improving their higher education systems.

Small changes at the top of the table reflect wider trends. Last year, mainland China claimed four of the top 10 spots; now it has five, with Zhejiang University moving up to ninth position from 12. That move has come at Hong Kong’s cost, which now has only two institutions in the top 10, compared with three previously, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong barely hangs in at 10th position (down from six).

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China’s two stand-out institutions, Tsinghua University and Peking University, retain their positions at number one and two, respectively. Their scores under the new research quality pillar (previously called citations) are markedly different from last year, however.

Tsinghua has jumped from 43rd place to eighth for research quality, and Peking has climbed from 73 to 20. This pillar previously measured only field-weighted citation impact, but it now also takes in research strength (a guide to how strong typical research is, using the 75th percentile of field-weighted citation impact); research excellence (reflecting the amount of world-leading research at an institution, based on the volume of research in the top 10 per cent worldwide); and research influence (a broader look at excellence, based on the volume of research recognised by the most influential research in the world). These new measures give us a better idea of the amount of high-quality research produced by institutions.

A similar trend is visible in Japan, where institutions such as The University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and Tohoku University register significantly higher scores in this year’s research quality pillar compared with last year’s citations pillar. As a result, they are edging closer to the top of the overall table: Tokyo has risen from eighth position to fifth, Kyoto from 18th to 13th, and Tohoku from 34th to 20th.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s top universities have slipped down the overall rankings. In 2023, Seoul National University was just outside the top 10, occupying 11th place, but it has fallen to 14th. Yonsei University (Seoul campus) has dropped from 13th to 17th, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has slipped from 17th to 18th.

Behind the disappointing performance of South Korea’s leading institutions were their scores in the teaching and research environment pillars. They gained from new metrics in research quality and industry; however, as they did not improve as much as Chinese institutions did, they slipped down the overall ranking.

Asia's top 10 universities overall

Rank 2024 Rank 2023 Institution Country/region
1 1 Tsinghua University China
2 2 Peking University China
3 3 National University of Singapore Singapore
4 5 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
5 8 The University of Tokyo Japan
6 4 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
7 =9 Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
8 =9 Fudan University China
9 12 Zhejiang University China
10 6 Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong

Billy Wong, THE’s lead data scientist, says the new research quality metrics “help us highlight research strength that was previously not completely recognised in the ranking”.

“Now that we’re also looking at research that is cited above average and is cited by other influential research, we can really see which regions are producing world-changing research,” he says.

Looking more closely at this trend in China, analysis of the top five universities in the country (which have been continuously ranked for the past five years) shows that the average score for research quality is 87.3, up from 73.1 last year under the old methodology.

So what do the numbers mean? Futao Huang, professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, says they confirm that China’s approach to research, which previously may have prized quantity, is now very much focused on publishing quality papers, too.

“China is also making very rapid progress in terms of highly cited papers, and China has made remarkable achievements in some key areas such as artificial intelligence, gene editing, quantum communication, space technology and more. China’s research institutions and universities are also gaining influence in the international arena,” he says.

While there are various measures of research influence, this advance chimes with other reports of China’s increasing research strength, such as a 2022 study by Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) that showed China creeping ahead of the US when it came to highly cited papers.

“For quite some time, analysts considered China as ‘imitating’ the leaders without producing novel work,” says Caroline Wagner, an expert on science and technology policy at Ohio State University. “This may have been the case in the past, but China now conducts novel and leading-edge research.”

As to what impact China’s growing research muscle might have on the rest of Asia, Huang believes the country will become a regional hub and exert greater influence over nearby nations, “for example, by attracting more students and scholars from neighbouring countries, and conducting more academic exchanges and cooperation with Asian countries in terms of teaching and scientific research”.

“There is no doubt that Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea and Singapore will become more dominant in terms of academic research in the next 10 or 20 years,” Huang adds.

Wagner expects even wider ripples because “the world is waking up to China’s research power”.

“Increasingly, Chinese researchers are collaborating with scientists and engineers around the world. In addition, the Chinese government has signed bilateral and multilateral science and technology agreements with at least 115 countries around the world to institute relationships in science or engineering,” she says. “China’s offer of partnership is especially attractive to developing countries, which hope to imitate and learn from China’s success.”

On the one hand, Wagner says, these collaborations “pass along knowledge and research capacity, which can help the less developed partner”. However, she warns that China is “tying domestic research closely to military capacity and strength”.

“China’s enhanced military strength, catalysed by science and technology advances, may be viewed as provocative by neighbours,” she says.

Ming Cheng, professor of higher education at Sheffield Hallam University, highlights two likely results of China’s growing research might. One is that China will attract more international students. The other relates to the lingua franca of science: “English might gradually lose its dominance as the language of scientific research.”

If the latter change occurs, it might remove “structural hurdles” for non-native English readers and researchers and “encourage diversity in developing and conducting scientific practice and research”, she says.

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Another change to THE’s methodology is the addition of a metric tracking how frequently a university’s research is cited in patents, as part of the industry pillar.

David Watkins, THE’s managing director of data science, says that the new metric “allows us to measure the level of knowledge transfer from academia to industry in a much more direct way. This gives us new insights into the positive impacts of universities on wider society.”

On this metric, 19 Asian universities score 100, demonstrating their strength in translating research into practical application in the region. Of those 19, four are in Japan, four are in South Korea, and four are in Hong Kong. One is in China.

Alexander Ping-kong Wai, vice-chancellor of Hong Kong Baptist University, says Hong Kong excels in this area in part because of wealth.

“Hong Kong is a rich city. There are many rich tycoons. If they’re interested, you can get the money going,” he says, referring to funding from industry.

The territory’s position as both part of and separate from China is useful as well, he says, as its more westernised culture means some businesses prefer to deal with Hong Kong, even if their factories and production are based on the Chinese mainland.

In South Korea, it is a cultural shift that has helped to embed entrepreneurialism in higher education and drive its universities’ strong industry performance.

Jae-Young Kim, executive vice-president for research affairs at Seoul National University, which achieves a high score for the patents metric, explains that there were “venture booms” in South Korea around the years 2000 and 2020, which “reshaped the entrepreneurial landscape within universities”.

“Around the first venture boom, professors and students with an entrepreneurial spirit emerged, particularly with students being nurtured through start-up clubs, leading universities to establish dedicated start-up support offices and policies. Similarly, the second venture boom underscored the significance of an entrepreneurial ecosystem integrating universities, local communities and the private sector,” he says.

In South Korea, “universities are recognised as key players in the knowledge triangle of education, research and innovation”, Kim continues.

“Each university has its own R&DB foundation [where “B” indicates business] for industry-academia cooperation, which manages research projects and intellectual property rights, and promotes the commercialisation of valuable patents…The monetisation of research outcomes and the establishment of spin-off companies within domestic universities, including Seoul National University, is expected to become increasingly important.”

Throughout the region are hints that higher education systems in a number of countries may be improving. Not every Asian nation has a university near the top of the table, but many are seeing an increasing number of institutions ranked each year.

This year, for instance, there are 91 Indian universities in the ranking, up from 75 last year, meaning that India overtakes China as the second most-represented country in the table. The country’s highest-ranked institution is the Indian Institute of Science at 32nd place, up from 48.

And there are 75 Turkish universities, up from 61 last year. The top two – Koç University and Middle East Technical University – share 69th place, and Istanbul Technical University rises from joint 149th to 92nd.

This year marks the 12th edition of the THE Asia University Rankings. It is the second time that the methodology has been significantly updated since the World University Rankings were launched 20 years ago, and it now, THE believes, even better reflects the changing nature of higher education in Asia.

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