University of Tokyo maintains reputation as top institution in Asia: survey


The University of Tokyo remains the most prestigious institution of higher education in Asia, according to a study released Tuesday, but the editor of the study said Japan is slipping in relative academic prominence and some action is needed to fight competition.

The institution came in ninth in this year’s Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, an annual survey of academic opinion, beaten only by American and British universities.

This year’s global index of university brands saw Harvard University once again come on top, with the University of Tokyo, also known as Todai, slipping one place from 2012.

The University of Tokyo’s nearest rival in Asia was the National University of Singapore, which climbed one place to 22nd. Most of the East Asian universities in the top 100 improved their ranking on 2012.

But China’s two flagship universities have slipped: Tsinghua University, from 30th to 35th, and Peking University from 38th to 45th.

Other Japanese universities to make it into the top 100 were: Kyoto University (23rd, down three places from 2012), Osaka University, (ranked between 51st and 60th, no change), Tohoku University and Tokyo Institute of Technology, (ranked in the 61st to 70th group, down from last year’s rankings, which put them in a cluster between 51st and 60th).

In terms of representation in the top 100, the United States and Britain are followed by Australia, which has moved ahead of Japan and the Netherlands and now has six institutions (up from four last year).

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, said, “There is evidence that Japan is losing ground. Tokyo has slipped one place, and the universities of Kyoto, Tohoku and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have also fallen.

“The country’s government has acknowledged that Japan step up its efforts to attract more overseas academics and students and internationalize its research, but the latest ranking shows that more needs to be done.

“Japan’s showing in the reputation rankings is much better than its record in the overall World University Rankings, (coming 27th in 2012) based on 13 largely objective indicators, so there is a concern that the country has for too long been resting on its laurels and historical reputation. Strong action is needed to protect Japan from falling behind Asian rivals.”

The 2013 results are based on 16,639 responses from senior academics in 144 countries who were asked to judge universities according to reputation between April to May 2012.

The poll asks academics to nominate no more than 15 of the best institutions in their narrow field of expertise, based on their experience and knowledge.

  • Japanese education system is still seems as as sacred cow, changes need to be done in order to revitalize the sluggish Japanese economy!

  • joe_shiki

    “The country’s government has acknowledged that Japan step up its efforts
    to attract more overseas academics and students and internationalize
    its research.”
    A good start would be to regard foreign professors as human beings. When you look at universities in the US and other western countries, the numbers of foreign professors with real positions, not three-year contracts, that teach real subjects is much higher.

    • Masa Chekov

      I am curious how many highly qualified professors are capable of teaching in Japanese and are willing to commit to a permanent, tenure track position in Japan? Are there so many?

      It seems like an extremely rare skillset to have for someone who is qualified to teach at a prestigious university.

      • Mark Garrett

        Interesting that of the top 40 prestigious institutions in the world, Tokyo University is the only one that doesn’t use English as its primary language. It seems to me that if the Japanese government is truly serious about attracting more overseas academics and students, Tokyo and other Japanese universities might want to get on board with the world’s accepted standards.

      • Masa Chekov

        There’s only two other universities in the top 40 from a country that does not have English as an official language – ETH Zurich (20) in Switzerland and Tsinghua University (35) in China. The others are from the US, UK, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong – all countries filled with native English speakers.

        According to their website, ETH Zurich’s language of instruction for undergraduates is German – some graduate programs are offered in English. The same seems to be true of Tsinghua – their website says 11 of 99 masters programs are in English, only 1 of 78 doctoral programs. So neither is noticeably different from the prestigious Japanese universities.

        I think a more interesting question to ask is, why is there such a strong bias in this survey against non-English speaking universities?

      • Mark Garrett

        For what it’s worth the Wikipedia entry for ETH Zurich states “The main language of instruction in undergraduate (Bachelor) studies is German and English, while most Master’s programmes and doctoral study are in English.” Also, I prefer the University Rankings which are more fact based than the Reputation Rankings which are very subjective.

      • Masa Chekov

        Well, I think I would trust the ETH Zurich website before Wikipedia.

        Anyway I think it’s rather clear that there is a problem with he methodology of this survey rather than a problem with U of Tokyo or Kyoto U. Also for what it’s worth – Kyoto U students do study science at least in English.

    • alex marshall

      I am a foreigner and studying at this university and I can say that I level with you 100 percent

  • Jason Pierre

    Japan status will continue to fall, especially when there are no real standards in the primary education system other than passing a test, and they fail to properly assess institutions of higher learning, and keep in place the no-fail policy that is hurting its education system. Also, as long as the heads of these institutions fail to accept and acknowledge the advanced degrees earned in foreign countries or held by foreign teachers, and encourage educators to continue to work towards these degrees.

  • Japan needs to act on this. China has huge academic ambitions, and Singapore can attract the best professors since they can teach (and live) entirely in English. Japan’s only comparative advantages right now are historical pedigree, and free speech.

  • Mark Garrett

    It should be noted that the author chose to use the (new) Reputation index, which is subjective, rather than the traditional rankings which are based on 5 core criteria. Tokyo sits at 27 on this scale.

  • Nancy Foster

    Don’t wish to be mean, but there isn’t a lot of Japanese universities that offer master degrees in my field in english and Tokyo University isn’t one of them. Japan will never have a cutting edge against Singapore, Australia, the United States and Europe if they don’t allow more english language speaking students to enroll without showing a JLPT-2 diploma or higher to enter a class for credit.

    I live in the second largest and easily in the top 5 most populated cities in the world and there is only 1 school that teaches JLPT-2 and higher level Japanese and it’s sadly a grueling 4-6 hour trip from where I live. Areas closer to home only offer ultra basic Japanese which won’t let you even pass the JLPT-5 exam. You can pick up Japanese in Japan by forced immersion but requesting a JLPT 2 diploma off the bat is a real stretch when you take into consideration the huge living expenses and difficulty in getting part-time jobs in Japan without a JLPT-2 or as an eikaiwa teacher (which BTW will need a university degree just to set your foot in the door so if you are just barely a junior you’re screwed).

    Another issue with making Japan more attractive to foreigners to come as students that aren’t fluent in the language is that Japanese in general speak english so poorly. When I visited Japan a few months ago, aside from hotel managers and a few tour guides in major tourist train terminals or sites I only saw one Japanese person speak fluent english when I visited a maid cafe and I was really surprised because he spoke it insanely well as was very polite helping me read the menu. I bet all of the other guys at the restaurant were really jealous they couldn’t even say hello to me!

  • Ken@Japan

    Some universities in Japan, such as Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Akita International University and so forth , are conducting researches entirely or at least half in English with foreign professors. Upon these attempts in academia, I believe that situations have been changing slowly but surely.

    Browsed comments posed here, I think lingual selection in academia should be based on its academic realm. For example, I think Japanese language would be useful for researching things related directly to Japan such as its literature, language culture and social system etc. Meanwhile, for science/technology disciplines, I think English can be the primary or at least applicable language to research in Japanese universities.

  • It’s true that Japan remains the most prestigious institution in Asia but its closely followed by Tsinghua University, University of Hong Kong and Seoul National University. The total points between them is only 18 point. If you look at other rankings or a compilation of world rankings (see you can see that the difference between the same institutions is 44 points.