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.

    • 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.

      • ilovetataki

        However small the fraction of foreign students in US universities is, the contribution of foreign born students to the pie of measurable academic achievements such as publications, patents, research grants, and awards is disproportionate to their representation in the total student population. Without foreign born students, the US top universities would be toast, and so would the US industry. Dr. Michio Kaku explains this very clearly with reference to the H1B “Genius” Visa.

        “Let me tell you something, some of you may not know this, America has a secret weapon, that secret weapon is the H1B. Without the H1B, the scientific establishment of this county would collapse. Forget about Google, forget about Silicon Valley, there would be no Silicon Valley without the H1B. And you know what the H1B is? It’s the genius visa. You realize in the United States, 50% of all PhD candidates are foreign born. At my system, one of the biggest in the United States, 100% of the PhD candidates are foreign born. The United States is the magnet sucking up all the brains of the world.”

      • Sooo… because one person stated an opinion – after we just discussed biasedness in poll figures – you’re going to take it as fact? More so, you’re immediately going to accept it as fact without any single possibility that there exist a large quantifiable number of other “facts” out there that might disprove it? It sounds to me that someone is very biased themselves here, and that because said opinion agrees with their own opinion – and many a larger number of personally held views to be sure – that opinion must be true.

        Look, it is a very big mistake to think for one second that the US education system is held up entirely by foreign minds. What if I said that the German education system was held up entirely by foreign minds? Or England? Or, GASP! JAPAN! OH NO! NOT JAPAN!

        It’s a laughable notion. It’s also laughable to think that US society is not directly responsible for the academic success of its own institutions. It’s laughable to so arrogantly tout that American universities are good only because a small fraction of foreign students are thrown into the mix, OR that the larger vast majority of American students – mind you, from every ethnic and cultural background on the planet – could not possibly be the real reason. And yes, that includes at ALL academic levels and for all achievements.

        Every nation has its good schools, and every nation has its terrible schools – the same as every nation has its good students, just like every nation has its terrible students. The US just happens to have a very large number of schools and students. The probabilities of good schools with selective criteria accepting and nurturing good students are, therefore, very high. While it is VERY true that the basic education system in the US (i.e. grades 1 – 12) is vastly garbage – that only applies to the “public” side of basic education, not the private side – the American college system makes quite a large appearance among the worlds top universities for a good reason… They know what they’re doing, and the student body – overwhelmingly American – is directly responsible for contributing to those standings.

        It would be wise, therefore, to be rid of such arrogantly biased assumptions – arrogant assumptions that seem very much based upon some kind of internalized hate… or is it jealousy, perhaps?

    • 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.

    • Liars N. Fools

      If your daughter is accepted at Caltech, Oxford, Stanford, and Tokyo, would you say the top three are overrated and recommend she go to Tokyo U?

      Talk is cheap.

      This sounds like a lot of sour grapes to me. Maybe if Todai had gone up a notch or two, we would be hearing folks extol the rating system. It is the shame of Todai falling so far that has brought out the comments of unfairness.

      Full disclosure: I went to a top ranked. We are far better than Todai under any rating system.

      • DineshSrivastava

        If my daughter is accepted into any of these reputed institutes, she will certainly make her own choice definitely based on ranking, but, not on the ranking of one year but on the basis of the average ranking over a period of 5 -10 years; because it appears that ranking of one university can not slide down from 23 to 46 in one year as it is mentioned in the case of Todai. It means something is fundamentally wrong with the ranking system. She would like any other student would prefer to go to a university because of its perpetual high ranking, and not on single year’s ranking.

      • Liars N. Fools

        In other words, she would go to one of the top three because they have been consistently ranked for several years, and with good cause for the ratings.

  • 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.