Language education at the heart of mobility

by Ben Sowter


An interesting piece on British language education over the weekend, took me completely by surprise

I had managed to completely miss the British government abandoning compulsory language education after 14 back in 2002. I know how many languages I would have taken to GCSE had I had the chance to choose, and much like the writer of this piece, I reflect on things wishing I had taken it a little more seriously. I now travel widely and find myself persistently apologizing for my lack of language skills, and everyon I meet, probably most of the readers of this blog are multi-lingual.

There are some deeper problems with British language education also – I was never taught French, in French and is French really the most pertinent language to be the natural second choice, whilst it may be the most helpful for casual trips to our neighbouring country, Spanish would seem more versatile, or Mandarin more business topical.

So with numbers having plummeted we have one more reason why the current and next batch of prospective university students will be even less open (or equipped) to take up international study opportunities.

Politics and higher education – a volatile mix?

by Ben Sowter


I can’t help but have a little admiration for Nicolas Sarkozy. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his positions – he at least seems prepared to actually do something. Not without a little resistance, however. There have been plenty of protests at all levels in response to his education reforms but the latest loosely represents a mutiny by the Grandes Ecoles as reported last month in The Telegraph –

In a nutshell, the Grandes Ecoles are resisting an attempt to force them to take 30 percent to their intake from under-privileged backgrounds. On the one hand, the populist view is that such students are disadvantaged when faced with the extremely challenging entrance exams, on the other that standards will drop if entry requirements are relaxed.

Both views seem valid, but the key battleground may not be at university admissions age but earlier – with a view to driving standards, and aspirations, amongst more diverse students sooner. Or alternatively to focus on diverse entrants to the often expensive preparatory classes rather than the Ecoles themselves which appeared to be Sarkozy’s view just 14 months ago: Asian University Rankings: The Top 100

The results of the Asian University Rankings are finally here. You can view the full results and more detail on the methodology on but here are the Top 100 to get you started…

2009 rank School Name Country
Source: QS Quacquarelli Symonds (
Copyright © 2004-2009 QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd.Click here for copyright and limitations on use.
1 University of HONG KONG Hong Kong
2 The CHINESE University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
3 University of TOKYO Japan
4 HONG KONG University of Science and Tech… Hong Kong
5 KYOTO University Japan
6 OSAKA University Japan
7 KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Scie… Korea, South
8 SEOUL National University Korea, South
9 TOKYO Institute of Technology Japan
10= National University of Singapore (NUS) Singapore
10= PEKING University China
12 NAGOYA University Japan
13 TOHOKU University Japan
14 Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore
15= KYUSHU University Japan
15= TSINGHUA University China
17 Pohang University of Science and Technol… Korea, South
18 CITY University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
19 University of TSUKUBA Japan
20= HOKKAIDO University Japan
20= KEIO University Japan
22 National TAIWAN University Taiwan
23 KOBE University Japan
24 University of Science and Technology of … China
25 YONSEI University Korea, South
26 FUDAN University China
27 NANJING University China
28 HIROSHIMA University Japan
29 SHANGHAI JIAO TONG University China
30= Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (I… India
30= MAHIDOL University Thailand
32 ZHEJIANG University China
33 KOREA University Korea, South
34 Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (I… India
35 CHULALONGKORN University Thailand
36 Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (II… India
37 WASEDA University Japan
38 The HONG KONG Polytechnic University Hong Kong
39 Universiti Malaya (UM) Malaysia
40 National TSING HUA University Taiwan
41 CHIBA University Japan
42 EWHA WOMANS University Korea, South
43 National CHENG KUNG University Taiwan
44 SUNGKYUNKWAN University Korea, South
45 NAGASAKI University Japan
46 HANYANG University Korea, South
47 National YANG MING University Taiwan
48 TOKYO Metropolitan University Japan
49 Indian Institute of Technology Madras (I… India
50 University of INDONESIA Indonesia
51 Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Malaysia
52 SHOWA University Japan
53 KUMAMOTO University Japan
54 YOKOHAMA NATIONAL University Japan
55 YOKOHAMA CITY University Japan
56 OKAYAMA University Japan
57 KYUNG HEE University Korea, South
58 PUSAN National University Korea, South
59 GIFU University Japan
60 University of DELHI India
61 SOGANG University Korea, South
62 KANAZAWA University Japan
63= Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (… India
63= OSAKA CITY University Japan
63= Universitas GADJAH MADA Indonesia
63= University of the PHILIPPINES Philippines
67 TOKYO University of Science (TUS) Japan
68 GUNMA University Japan
69 Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Malaysia
70 TIANJIN University China
71 National SUN YAT-SEN University Taiwan
72 National TAIWAN University of Science an… Taiwan
73 Hong Kong BAPTIST University Hong Kong
74 National CHIAO TUNG University Taiwan
75 XI’AN JIAOTONG University China
76 DE LA SALLE University Philippines
77 National CENTRAL University Taiwan
78 NIIGATA University Japan
79 OCHANOMIZU University Japan
80 BANDUNG Institute of Technology (ITB) Indonesia
81 CHIANG MAI University Thailand
82= KYUNGPOOK National University Korea, South
82= Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Malaysia
84 Ateneo de MANILA University Philippines
85 THAMMASAT University Thailand
86 TOKAI University Japan
87 MIE University Japan
88 CHONNAM National University Korea, South
89 KAGOSHIMA University Japan
90 Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Malaysia
91 CHANG GUNG University Taiwan
92 INHA University Korea, South
93 TOKYO University of Agriculture and Tech… Japan
94 TONGJI University China
95 SOUTHEAST University China
96 HITOTSUBASHI University Japan
97 CHONBUK National University Korea, South
98 AJOU University Korea, South
99 CHUNGNAM National University Korea, South
100 University of PUNE India Asian University Rankings due to provide insight on a larger number of indicators

by Ben Sowter


It has been encouraging to see traffic on this fledgling blog spike today in anticipation of the Asian University Rankings due for publication tomorrow. It has been a very busy time responding to individual institutions and preparing our press campaign. The methodology is somehat different from the THE-QS World University Rankings, with a smaller number of countries we have been able to gather adequate data on a couple of additional indicators – the internationalisation area now features inbound and outbound exchange numbers; whilst the citations per faculty indicator has been split out into papers per faculty (productivity) and citations per paper (quality).

Additionally, the regional exercises emphasises the performance differences between institutions in the region – particularly in research measures where the presence of US institutions significantly compresses the scale.

All this means there may be a few small surprises tomorrow when the results are published. Results and more detail on the methodology will emerge initially through Chosun Ilbo (, our partner in South Korea and will follow at 6.00AM GMT on our website –

I will try and find time later in the week to put together a more complete post looking at some of the results and some of the interesting contrasts between the results of this exercise and those of the world rankings. I also look forward to reading and responding to any comments about the methodology or results – we’re always interested in feedback and providing a balanced view.

Obama on (higher) education…

by Ben Sowter


We are living in interesting times. The world is in economic chaos, we are under the persistent threat of terrorism and now there is also a pestilence. Those prone to drama could be forgiven for suggesting that the four horsemen are abroad.

Not a time to adopt the presidency of the United States then. Or is it?

Greatness is generally measured by one’s achievements and their contrast against those of our peers. Political achievement, like customer service or IT support is rarely observed when there is nothing to fix. Obama has come to power at a time when there is much to repair with his closest peer and predecessor having been arguably amongst the worst presidents in history (US News & World Report). With that backdrop in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that his first 100 days seem to have been broadly chalked up as a success.

But what is it all going to mean for higher education, both domestically and globally?

University rankings acknowledge the US to have a good lead but also suggest that this is being, albeit slowly, eroded. The strategies the US pursues are clearly both deeply influential on and closely scrutinized by the global higher education sector.

In late October last year, we ran a seminar circuit in North America visiting the University of Toronto, Boston University, Columbia University, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago. Predictably the topic was the background, methodology and results of the THE- QS World University Rankings. It was an exciting time to be in the US – I was in Chicago the weekend before Obama’s victory party – and I was trawling through the candidates’ manifestos to seek out references to higher education that might contextualise the content of our sessions. There was very little – higher education is clearly not much of a campaign gambit at present. Anything I could find was talking about widening participation, increasing diversity and provided fiscal support to enable more people from less-privileged backgrounds to make it to college or university – certainly an important agenda, but not necessarily one that gave much of a lead on support directly for the institutions to imporve their ability to educate and further their pursuit of basic science.

Still, it doesn’t take a tempered political analyst to recognise that what gets one elected can be different from what needs to be done, or indeed, what will maintain the support of the people.

It seems certain that, given his background and repeated rhetoric to this point, that Obama considers education one the central priorities of his administration, in his speech before Congress on February 24 he identified education as one of three pillars of long-term economic recovery and specifically stated, “our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for”. It seems that the international exposure of future generations of American graduates and, ultimately, leaders is at the forefront of the President’s mind.

Perhaps, then, the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, formerly known as the the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Act will now get the support it needs in Congress to be passed as law. With lofty goals to send 1 million US students (representing apporximately 50% of US college graduates) per year overseas for study abroad within 10 years, this would have a dramatic impact on the global higher education sector – particularly since the act is also focused on increasing diversity of both the people going and the destinations. (There is good infomation on the Act available on the NAFSA website)

According to the UNESCO Global Education Digest 48,329 students from the US studied overseas in 2006 – so the ambitions of the Simon legislation represent a dramatic change in pure numbers alone, but it is the side-effects that may prove even more interesting. US institutions will open themselves up to partnership with institutions around the world in a far more proactive way than ever before and whilst these partnerships will begin with exchange and study abroad it seems inevitable that many of them may evolve in to something more. There will also be an associated fiscal injection which, whilst it may be comparatively insignificant to the US institutions supplying the students, may be impactful at some of the institutions in developing countries that are the target.

The social implications for the US – and its international relationships – over the next 50 years could be revolutionary. Even if we ignore the growing numbers in the lead up to the target, the Act aims to send over 40 million American citizens out for study abroad in the next half-century – approaching 15% of their current population. Since only in the region of 20% of US citizens hold a passport (various source data available here), this represents a dramatic shift which can only have long term benefit for the US against the backdrop of globalisation.

It seems the whole world is watching this new President to see whether his walk will match his impressive talk. Universities and their stakeholders are no exception.

The geography of rankings

Some helpful fellow in Germany has plotted the location of the Top 100 universities in both the THE – QS World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong exercise on a friendly, interactive Google map to be found here


Geographic distribution of top 100 universities in Shanghai Jiao Tong's Academic Ranking of World Universities

Geographic distribution of top 100 universities in THE - QS World University Rankings

Geographic distribution of top 100 universities in THE - QS World University Rankings

There are some interesting contrasts between the two maps even when only looking at the Top 100. THE-QS includes institutions in China and Singapore, is more generous towards Australasia, and whilst the picture looks similar in coastal US states, SJTU shows greater favour towards institutions in the Mid-West. Sadly the exercise is currently limited to the top 100 – it would be interesting to see the greater contrast further down the lists and, perhaps, to see how these compare with the results of other ranking exercises, both international and domestic.