Todai loses crown as Asia’s leading university, overtaken by Singapore, Beijing


The University of Tokyo has lost its crown as Asia’s leading higher education institution after being overtaken by the National University of Singapore and Peking University in a global ranking released Wednesday.

The National University of Singapore took 26th place in this year’s Times Higher Education list of the world’s top 800 universities.

The University of Tokyo, commonly known as Todai, which regularly tops the list of Asian institutions, came in at 43rd position, well behind last year’s 23rd place. Peking University was ranked 42nd.

The California Institute of Technology remained the world’s No. 1 institution, with the University of Oxford in second place and Stanford University third.

The rankings, now in their 12th year and expanded to cover the world’s top 800 universities, measure a range of factors, including teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Phil Baty, who edits the rankings, blamed the University of Tokyo’s fall on budget cuts. He noted that Japan was still Asia’s number one nation for top universities and the third most-represented country overall, with 41 of its institutions making this year’s list.

“Due to ongoing austerity in the country as a result of its crippling level of public debt, its spending in research and development has dropped significantly in recent years, with the main research budget for 2015 falling 3.9 percent from the previous year, to about $10 billion,” Baty said.

“The government has also cut management expenses grants, a basic subsidy to operate universities and research institutes.”

He added, “Although Japan has previously led Asia’s progress toward superpower status, it must now up its game and invest further in research to compete with its neighboring rivals.”

The only other Japanese institution in the top 200 was Kyoto University, at joint 88th, which fell from 59th place in 2014.

  • ilovetataki

    To be taken with a very generous pinch of salt.
    Any ranking has severe bias. Numbers never tell the whole story, and any attempt to rank on a global scale will not be able to take into consideration or correctly weigh the vast amount of variables at play.
    I would like to present one example of a flaw in these rankings. Does this survey take into consideration ‘brain-drain’?
    Who is truly responsible for the performance of the top ranked universities, which are predominantly N. American? I bet the answer is foreign graduate students who were not raised and educated in the US, and are really not a product of the universities they bring fame to. When a student from India obtains a Ph.D at Stanford, publishes under Stanford, wins awards etc… Stanford gets the fame and ends up high in the rankings. However, can we really say that this gifted student is a product of Stanford? How do we reward the institutions this student attended prior to his arrival at Stanford, and are these factors reflected in the global rankings? Most likely the gifted student mentioned above built his/her foundation in India as a high-schooler in Bombay or Delhi, and later undergraduate at an Indian university that is either ranked outside of the top 200, or not ranked at all. The fact that a university system like IIT (India Institute of Technology), which is the most productive petri dish for top researchers on Earth, has not a single campus represented in the top 200 universities of the world has to make one wonder what these rankings really mean.

    • AJ P

      Well… besides the point that foreign students constitute only a fraction of the North American University population – and the same could also be said for the vast majority of nations and educational institutions – and besides the point that a person who spends their entire academic career progressing only within one school is considered severely limited and without diversity and well-rounded character by the majority of the academic community… yes, your points about bias in ranking is very true. All too often are rankings – especially worldly rankings – skewed, biased interpretations centered around opinionated subjectivity, leaving out, ignoring, or purposely omitting large amounts of factors that might change the perspective and results, and often are they purposely designed to cater to certain perspectives or social demands.

    • Mark Garrett

      In other words, Todai may actually be much lower than 43rd.

    • yantao

      You can be sure than something is wrong with that ranking, when you see Chinese universities in a first 50 on the list.

    • fun_on_tv

      Flip the argument around. Why don’t “good students” go to the top universities in Japan.
      While we should take any number with a pinch of salt, the trend is clear.
      University of Cambridge asked former students to raise money to get a broader range of students. It’s also the centre for biotechnology in the UK. The government decided to create hubs around the country to foster more research. The Japanese government could easier do the same.

    • Ahojanen

      You are pointing out an interesting point. But I think university has little to do with nationality or country of origin. Stanford is successful in gaining foreign brains, which is one of significant factors for leading universities. In higher degree programmes international students/researchers can get financial supports or benefits, good facilities and campus environment, none of which they could enjoy in their home countries.

      I apply a similar line of thought for Nobel prize laureates (which is very soon to be announced). Japanese media and public tend to focus on how many Japanese nationals have been awarded. I suggest they ask which institutions they are from or belonging to (at time of remarkable studies qualified for Nobel prize). Majority laureates are trained at European or North American universities.

    • tisho

      First of all, nobody is gifted, there is no such thing, you have to work hard to achieve something. Second of all, in your example, the Indian student wins awards and is successful after being educated in Stanford, so Stanford gets the fame because it was Stanford that provided the student with the needed set of skills, or way of thinking, or materials to work with. American universities attract foreign students because they have a huge base of materials, they allow students to be productive, you need productive institutions to be able to conduct a serious research. Indian student may be just as smart as his American counterparts but unless he is in a place where he can utilize his productivity he is not going to achieve anything. That being said, i think we all agree that there is bias in these rankings because of the criteria.

  • DineshSrivastava

    I fully agree with the comments of “ilovetataki”. Ranking depends on how many relevant factors have been take and weight assigned to each factor. One can design a rating formula suiting to their strength and can get a good ranking. Education has become a big business and rating has become an instrument of marketing. And accordingly, one should not give much weight to rating while deciding an educational institute.

  • tisho

    People need to learn that there is a difference between education and schooling.

  • Liars N. Fools

    One factor in the decline in Japan university rankings may be what I call “intellectual incest.” Look at the faculty of Todai and one will find that most are Todai alumni, perhaps for all of their degrees.. Same for Kyodai. Keio and Waseda are just a little better. All too often, their alumni associations are by university department, forfeiting the cross pollination of a broader alumni grouping. This is Galapagos U. in action.

    Contrast that with top American universities. It is extremely common for someone to have a bachelor’s from, say, Stanford, a masters from Michigan, and a doctorate from MIT and to be a professor at Harvard. It is not at all uncommon for the faculty member to be a non-American. Adaptability and diversity reinforce substantive knowledge, making for a more sophisticated education and teaching experience,

    To be sure, budget problems have hurt especially state-funded universities in America, but they do not have a Ministry of Education that wants to rip the humanities and social sciences out of the university curriculum. Surely, this might have a literal mind-numbing effect on the quality of Japanese university education.

    I have enjoyed meeting professors from a variety of places, Todai, Kyodai, Keio, Waseda, Doshisha, Osaka, and so forth, and I think they are top notch people (mostly in international relations, which is my field), but I have also met Nobel Prize winners who found the path to discoveries in stem cells in San Francisco or who have decamped to Santa Barbara because Japanese employers devalued his work.

    Japanese university leaders can retreat into offices and decry the ratings, but maybe they might take this as a wake up call.