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The Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (CWCU) released the results of the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011 in mid-August. Few surprises were found at the top, with the leading 20 positions dominated by American and British universities. While the ups and downs of individual institutions in the ranking has been a sensational topic of discussion, the specific ranking scores for those below the top 100 are not published by the ranker due to the lack of significant difference among them. This year, the very small difference in the total scores of the last five universities in the top 100 resulted in a tie for the 100th place between Texas A&M University-College Station and the University of Frankfurt. As a result, 101 institutions collectively comprise the world’s top 100 positions.
The decreasing differences between the total scores of universities in the lower stratum of the ranking create a situation where the winning of a single Nobel Prize or Fields Medal can result in a remarkable jump in an institution’s position. For example, the Fields Medalist Stanislav Smirnov contributed significantly to the skyrocketing position of the University of Geneva, which jumped from 101-150th in 2010 to 73rd in 2011. Though not as impressive, Nobel Prize wins also increased the standings of the University of Aarhus (which advanced 12 places), Purdue University-West Lafayette (rising 8 places), and the University of Manchester (improving by 6 places).
By analyzing those universities among the top 101 which rose or fell 5 places from 2010, universities in continental Europe show steady advancement, while universities in Japan are falling in the rankings. Universities in the UK, US and Australia show mixed results in this vein.
Meanwhile, the total number of Chinese universities ranked among the top 500 increased to 35 this year, when including institutions in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. With this number, China ranked 4th—after the US, Germany and the UK, and ahead of Japan—in terms of the total number of universities listed among the top 500. However, considering that the differences in the scores of those below the top 100 are minute, it is not so clear how the universities beyond the 100th place are evaluated and ranked. As a result, some are calling for greater transparency of the scores beyond the top 100 to enhance the credibility of the ranking.
In related news, CWCU has recently formed an International Advisory Board comprised of scholars, policy researchers and university leaders who have been active in the rankings community. It also kicked off a new initiative in January 2011 called Global Research University Profiles Survey (GRUP) which aims at producing a “much more comprehensive and customized comparisons of research universities at a global level”.Academic Ranking of World Universities University of Geneva