Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Worlds Universities, Ranked and Located

Preface: Once in a while, I take a look at the University of Shanghai’s Annual Ranking of the World's 800 Major Universities.

You  may find this an empty exercise. However, I enjoy lists, and I have spent my life in  academe. The Shanghai rankings have good credibility. The criteria are the usual ones - the quality of education, research output, Nobel laureates, etc There is of course always room for improvement. For now, I present to you some of the interesting factoids I came across. I hope you enjoy perusing these. I’ll focus on the top 100, then 200, and (briefly) 500 universities listed.

Countries and Regions:
Of the top 200 universities, 77 are located in North America. That is almost 39%.   Actually, North American preponderance is even more notable among the top 100 universities, of which over half of  are in the US and Canada. The United States has 70, or 35%,  of the top 200 universities, and 48 of the top one hundred.
In sharp contrast, the entirety of Latin America has one university in this category - the University of Sao Paulo. Vast regions such as Africa and  India have zero. Altogether, the five “Anglo” countries of the world - the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and  Ireland have  109 of the world’s top 200 universities,  = 54.5%. Yup. Cultural preponderance (call it domination, if you wish). Table One shows these facts.

                                            Table 1. Top 200 Universities of the world, by Continent/Region.

Top 100
Top 200
% of top 200
North America
Middle East
Latin America
Anglo countries

            However, when we compare the number of universities in each country and take population into account, the ranking that emerges is quite different. For this, I have included the world’s top 500 universities, as shown in table 2.
                                                Table 2. World’s Top 500 Universities and Population Ratio
People per University
1. Iceland (1 university)
2. Sweden (1 university)
3-7. Finland, Switzerland, Estonia, Denmark, Australia (5,8,1,5,23 universities)
1 million         
8-9. New Zealand, Canada (4,17 universities)
1.2 million      
10-14. Holland, Israel, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany 12,6,7, 38, 47 universities)
1.4 - 1.8 million
15-19. Slovenia, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Norway (1,4,5,3,3 universities)
2 million
20. USA (135 universities)
2.5 million
21-22. France, Taiwan (20, 7 universities)
3.3 - 3.4 million
23-24. Italy, Greece (16, 3 universities)
3.9 - 4  million
25-26. Spain, South Korea (11, 12 universities)
4.3 - 4.5 million
27-29. Singapore, Serbia, Japan (2,1, 17 universities)
6 - 7.5 million
30-33. Saudi Arabia, Chile, South Africa, Czech Republic (4, 2, 5, 1 universities)
8-11  million
34-35. Malaysia, Poland (2 universities each)
16-19  million
36. China, incl. Hong Kong ((50 universities)
27 million                   
37. Brazil (6 universities)                                                                               
37 million
38-40. Iran, Argentina, Russia (2,1 3  universities)
40-48  million
41. Thailand (1 university)
69 million
42-43. Turkey, Egypt (1 university each)
80-96  million
44. Mexico (1 university)
128 million
45. India (1 university)
1,324 million

            Thus, while in absolute numbers no country approaches the United States, which has  135 of the world’s top 500 universities, relative to population the US ranks only  #20.
            The countries that do “best” in this ranking are: all of Scandinavia, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, the Benelux, the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria, Israel.            
            And if you look at Table 1 again, you’ll see that  the “density” of top universities in(Western) Europe and in Australia is at least equal to, or exceeds that of the United States.
            Now for Some Individual Universities:
            Having cautioned the (American) reader not to gloat too much as a result of the very large ABSOLUTE number of top universities located in the US, I now return to an examination of the United States:
            Of the world’s top 12 universities,   10 are in the US and the remaining 2 are  in the United Kingdom. They are  the usual suspects:
            1. Harvard
            2. Stanford
            3. Cambridge
            4. MIT
            5. UC Berkeley
            6. Princeton
            7. Oxford
            8. Columbia
            9. Cal Tech
            10. Univ. of Chicago
            11. Yale
            12. UCLA
            Of the world’s top 20, sixteen  are in the US, three  in the UK and one in Switzerland.
            Consider the US Ivy League.  It consists of 8 universities,  6 of which are among the  world’s top 21:

                                                                        University:                                          World ranking:
                                                                            Harvard                                                            1
                                                                            Princeton                                                          6
                                                                            Columbia                                                          8
                                                                            Yale                                                                 11
                                                                            Cornell                                                            14
                                                                            Univ. of Penn.                                                 17
                                                                            Brown                                                  #101-150
                                                                            Dartmouth                                            #200-300

            Look now at the University of California: It has10 campuses, 4 of them among the world’s top 21, eight among  the world’s top 100:
                                                                              Campus:                                              World ranking:
                                                                               Berkeley                                                             5
                                                                               UCLA                                                               12
                                                                               San Diego                                                        15
                                                                               San Francisco                                                  21
                                                                               Santa Barbara                                                  45
                                                                               Irvine                                                                64
                                                                               Davis                                                                85
                                                                               Santa Cruz                                                       98
                                                                               Riverside                                              #150-200
                                                                               Merced (new campus)                          #700-800

            California and the  Ivy League ( plus a few  independents such as  NYU)  account for more than one third of the world’s top 50 universities.                      
            Let me add a special commendation for the University of California and especially  UC Berkeley: Despite the relentless bloodletting of the  state’s financial  support in recent decades, UC Berkeley remains THE number one PUBLIC university in the world. Of all the UC campuses, only Riverside and the brand-new Merced campus fail to make the world’s top 100. It is no coincidence that Silicon Valley - Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and  Amazon - as well as other avant-garde companies such as Uber and Tesla are  Californian.

            Some other Universities of personal interest to me:  
            Here are some of the institutions with which I have been affiliated, either as a student or as a professor (in chronological order): Union College, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Boston University, Cal State Sacramento, Cal State East Bay, UC Riverside, Penn State, Chapman College, and a few more.
            Here are these institutions’ world rankings:

                                                            Union College                         not listed
                                                            University of Amsterdam       #101-150
                                                            University of Minnesota:        #34
                                                            University of Wisconsin:        #28
                                                            Boston University:                  #80
                                                            Cal State, Sacramento:            not listed
                                                            Cal State East Bay                  not listed
                                                            UC Riverside:                         #150-200
                                                            Penn State:                              #85                             
                                                            Chapman College:                   not listed

            Of course,  the California State University  is a teaching-oriented   institution with little research going on.  Among its 23 campuses, only one is ranked by the Shanghai survey - San Diego State, ranked among #501-#600.
            Here are a few other universities of personal interest to me:
            University of Indiana: ranked among #101-150
            Michigan State: #101-150: Some of my colleagues got their PhD at these universities.
            Nebraska: #151-200: My wife spent part of her childhood in that state.
            Alabama, main campus: among #601-700: So much for football. National football champion, and a mediocre university!
I am puzzled by the low ranking given to Paris’  Sorbonne University: Among #701-800. What happened?
            It is said that Italy’s Padua University is the oldest one in the world. It is currently ranked among #151-#200. And so is Italy’s best university, that of Rome, also ranked among #151-#200.

            Eastern Europe: Only 1 among the top 100: The University of  Moscow, ranked #93.
            Hungary’s  best: Eotvos Lorand (University of Budapest): ranked among  #500-#600. Then, Hungary has 3 more universities ranked among #500-#800.

            Among the  top 500:
            India: 1, namely the Indian Institute of Science, ranked among  #300-#400. Then, India has another 6 universities ranked  among #600-800.
            Mexico: 1, namely the National Autonomous University of Mexico, ranked among #200-300. Then, Mexico has  1 more university ranked among  #500-600
            You may have gotten huffy about this piece. As if it was about bragging, or US/Anglo chauvinism, or whatever. Nothing could be further from my intention. I am documenting a current reality. All of this has to do with two things: (1) socio-economics and (2) cultural preponderance.  Today, English is the world language, as was French (the Lingua Franca)  a few hundred years ago, and Latin before that. Call it cultural domination if you prefer. Nothing is forever. The knowledge industry  still takes place  preponderantly in that part of the world which can most afford it. Simple.

           Another issue which these rankings and this brief article don’t  even begin to address is  the growing inequity embedded in the whole US and international university system: By and large, the world’s top universities are for the rich, and the privileged. They represent the elite, and the trend is getting worse. But this subject is for another day.

Furthermore, when I point out that India, with  a sixth of the world’ population, has nearly zero universities among the world’s major institutions of higher education, I must acknowledge a comment made to me recently by an Indian-American friend: What about the massive brain drain  of Indian scientists to the UK and to the US over the past century? In fields such as astronomy and quantum physics, Indians have excelled for generations. It’s just that they have been part of a huge exodus  benefiting the recipient countries.

Finally, the most devastating argument against the “reification” of the Shanghai rankings - which is, I suppose, what this article does:

These universities represent one type of knowledge and intelligence, namely western positivistic science.

However, there are many  forms of intelligence.  There is also knowledge that is more holistic, knowledge that understands the mind, thought and consciousness in a more spiritual but equally  (or more) valid way. In that universe, India (and other cultures) have much to teach  the West.

I began to read the works of Krishnamurti when I was in graduate school. My friend and later colleague Robi Chakravorti, originally from Calcutta, turned me on to this work. There is a vast body of such  wisdom in non-Western cultures, a wisdom of which  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.
The Shanghai survey should absolutely not be viewed  as showing some sort of  “distribution of intelligence around the globe.” The West’s forte has been the analytical-positivist paradigm, buttressed by NSF grant money and practiced with different levels of expertise at universities from Harvard to Sac. State. But this is only one  paradigm  - one whose inherent flaws are in fact beginning to show, as it bears no small responsibility for the incipient destruction of the planet. “Modernity” and  the West may in fact suffer from a deficit of wisdom compared to some non-Western cultures such as India. The pursuit of truth takes many different forms and methodologies. Perhaps this  realization  unravels and renders meaningless any such  lists  as the Shanghai rankings.

© Tom Kando 2018;All Rights Reserved

              comment here