Lately the US has been taking a bit of a beating on the world stage. No one was impressed by the partisan wrangling during the negotiations to raise the debt-ceiling. The US then proceeded to lose its AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor’s for the first time ever, an ignominious come-down further fueled by China scolding the US for its “addiction to debt” and “living beyond its means” like some spendthrift child. But there’s one category in which the US continues to dominate as even China acknowledges, higher education.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, US universities rank tops in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. This list is published annually by Jiao Tong University in Shanghai and all but two of the top ten places are occupied by US institutions. Here’s the full list from Xinhua:
- Harvard University (USA)
- Stanford University (USA)
- MIT (USA)
- University of California at Berkeley (USA)
- Cambridge University (UK)
- Cal Tech (USA)
- Princeton University (USA)
- Columbia University (USA)
- University of Chicago (USA)
- Oxford University (UK)
The Chronicle of Higher Education does note that there is ” growing criticism of international reliance on university rankings, and efforts to develop alternative systems for evaluating and comparing institutions are gaining ground.” The Shanghai rankings are weighted heavily towards research output in the sciences and do not take humanities programs into account.
In June, the European Union introduced a new ranking tool named U-Multibank, which allows users to determine how much they want to weigh each factor. That is, U-Multibank operates from the premise that there is no such thing as an objective ranking and allows users to develop personalized rankings. Says the Chronicle of Higher Education:
U-Multirank relies on indicators in five subject areas: teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation, and regional engagement. On Thursday, developers unveiled the results of a two-year feasibility study involving 159 universities from around the world, two thirds of which are in Europe.
The system’s Web-based interface was demonstrated at a conference in Brussels by users representing a student, a university administrator, and a business official. Each showed how they would select indicators that mattered to them, such as the student’s focus on student-staff ratios or the business representative’s interest in dropout rates or business-studies programs. After the conference, Mr. [Frans] van Vught [one of the leaders of the project] described complaints from at least one audience member that the system seemed far too complicated as “surprising” and said that efforts would be made to make the interface more user friendly.
U-Multirank was developed by a consortium of European organizations led by the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, and the Center for Higher Education Development, in Germany.
Only five US universities ended up completing the questionnaires about U-Multirank. “American universities are largely focused on the American system and their own performance in the American system, and do not care so much about the rest of the world,” van Vught commented.
While US universities have plenty of imperfections, and while the schools on the Shanghai list are “the elites,” there’s much to be said for higher education in the US and in particular an emphasis on critical thinking and individual creativity. My husband teaches religion and cultural studies at a large private university in Manhattan and has had a number of students from China in the past few years. The students are from Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong and elsewhere and while their academic background is very, very thorough, it takes them awhile to get used to the “looser,” more open-ended teaching style of some American professors (my husband included), as well as requests to formulate original research questions for essays and oral presentations. The education system is China emphasizes rote learning and memorization and while there is more to such skills than some might think, learning to think on your own is a skill that is not easily attained.
Plus, there’s the fact that one of my husband’s Chinese students was completely shocked to learn that the Dalai Lama is alive — something suggesting that some aspects of education in China are a little more than lacking.
Related Care2 Coverage
US Universities Are Tops