Not long ago, the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania released the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. Comparing this report with the previous year’s highlights some interesting changes.
First, the total number of think tanks increased to 7,815 from 6,846 worldwide, an astonishing increase, and much greater than that between 2014 and 2016. This increase was due to new European and Asian institutions.
Moreover, Europe last year replaced North America as the region with the greatest number of think tanks, accounting for 26.2 percent of the total number worldwide.
Next, there has been a shift from north to south in terms of the number of think tanks. European and North American groups had an early start, but now there are an increasing number from emerging countries and regions.
The percentage of European and North American think tanks has fallen to 51.4 percent from 54.1 percent, while those on developing continents such as Asia, South America and Africa have continued to rise, occupying almost half of the global think-tank map.
The total number of Asian think tanks has risen to 1,262 from 1,106 over the past three years, before jumping to 1,676 last year, accounting for more than 20 percent of the global tally.
Nevertheless, quality is more important than quantity, as think tanks place a priority on the quality of ideas. From this perspective, the European and US think tanks are still leaders, as they often dominate the top spots on the index.
As for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the former is struggling, while the latter is doing well.
Because China attaches great importance to think-tank development as part of its national strategy, Chinese think tanks have really been making strides. The number of Chinese think tanks increased by 77 last year to 512, raising China to the No. 2 ranking after the US.
By comparison, the number of Taiwanese think tanks increased by six last year to 58, and Taiwan merely ranked No. 25 on the index.
Interestingly, the rankings of think tanks on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait by number are similar to their global GDP rankings.
However, as top Chinese think tanks continue to rise in the various categories, they are outshining their Taiwanese competitors. Seven Chinese think tanks were ranked among the top 100. Meanwhile, Chinese think tanks made the top 100 lists in 38 of the index’s 52 categories last year.
In Taiwan, the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER) and the Industrial Technology Research Institute ranked among the top non-US think tanks and top government-affiliated think tanks, while several Taiwanese think tanks appeared in other categories.
More Taiwanese institutes made the top 100 list for top think tanks in Asia and the Pacific — including the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, CIER, National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations and three other institutes.
However, they are far less competitive than “top think tank” institutes in China, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
While there is hardly a dearth of Taiwanese think tanks, there is room for improvement in terms of quality.
Taiwan’s old rival South Korea only has 53 think tanks, but the country was ranked No. 17 globally, while its institutes took the first and third spots in the category of top think tanks in China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Today, think tanks such as the Korea Development Institute have even become the key driving force behind policymaking for its economic and social policies.
A function of its excessive number of universities, the supply-demand imbalance in Taiwan’s higher education could perhaps serve as a lesson. Taiwan should be looking into how it can improve the quality of its leading think tanks, not simply into how to add more to the list. It will become more competitive by focusing on the development of a few world-class think tanks.
Hong Xincheng is a researcher at a Chinese think tank.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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