Fri, Jul 24, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Evaluating Taiwanese universities

By Yeh Chingwen 葉景雯

In June, US News & World Report published its annual survey, the “World’s Best Colleges and Universities.” Among the 400 outstanding schools listed, 93 institutions, or nearly 25 percent, were in the US.

Four Taiwanese universities made the list. National Taiwan University (NTU) was ranked 124th, down from 102nd last year. The other three Taiwanese universities on the list were National Tsing Hua University (281st), National Yang-Ming University (341st) and National Cheng Kung University (354th).

Eight Chinese universities also made the list, with Peking University ranked 50th, along with South Korea’s Seoul National University and Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Five Hong Kong universities were listed, led by the University of Hong Kong at 26th.

The US News & World Report started publishing its rankings of the world’s best colleges 25 years ago. Many consider it an authoritative reference on university rankings in the US and has gained in influence over the years. Parents and high school teachers often refer to these rankings when advising graduating students on their university applications, and many university alumni and school boards place much importance on the magazine’s annual scoreboard.

The report evaluates and ranks the world’s universities in terms of six criteria. Academic peer review accounts for 40 percent, employer review 10 percent, student-to-faculty ratio 20 percent, thesis citations per faculty member 20 percent, and international student and international faculty factors 5 percent each.

Comparing the top-scoring institutions in Taiwan and China, NTU scored an admirable 54 points in the citations category, compared with 34 for Peking University. This suggests that NTU’s academic research quality is much higher than that of its rival in Beijing.

In the academic peer review category, however, Peking University received full marks (100), while NTU only got 87.

In terms of student-to-faculty ratio, Peking University’s score was more than twice as high as NTU’s.

As for international student and international faculty factors, NTU and Peking University were rated equal.

The magazine’s college rankings have been the subject of controversy since they were first published, and many Americans have found fault with its methodology. Some universities have also refused to be included, saying the rankings were at odds with their educational philosophy. Fortunately, there are many other school rankings around the world that offer varying standards and results. Although we should not care too much about rankings, it does not hurt to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of Taiwan’s higher education system and scientific research based on the data.

The University of Hong Kong’s prominent ranking on the list could be attributed to its solid teaching and well-financed research, as well as high degree of internationalization. In contrast, NTU scored poorly on student-to-faculty ratio, probably because of a shortage of funds. NTU has an average of 35 full-time students in each class, compared with 24 for Peking University. The onus is on Taiwan’s government to provide colleges and universities with more funds for teaching and research.

The academic peer review score is the most important factor in the rankings, accounting for 40 percent of the overall score. Peking University was awarded a perfect 100 in academic ranking. This result may be a little surprising, but it can be explained. Peking University is the top university in China. Among all the students in China, the few who can squeeze into Peking University are the cream of the crop. Many Peking University graduates go on to study at famous colleges abroad, with a large number leaving a good impression on their professors.

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