Asian universities adopt strategies to boost rankings

Asian universities adopt strategies to boost rankings
Students at University Town in NUS. A pragmatic place like Singapore views a degree as primarily a way to secure a job.

University enrolment continues to grow across Asia. A new report from the Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) has analysed ways in which countries across the region can accommodate more students while strengthening the quality of their university programmes and research.

Titled "Higher Education in Asia: Expanding Out, Expanding Up", the report will be released in Bangkok on May 19 next Monday by the Office of the Higher Education Commission, Mahidol University, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The report is designed to help governments in Asia and beyond evaluate the policy trade-offs in expanding access to high-quality universities and research institutions.

"The race is on to build world-class universities as countries seek more foreign students, companies and investment," said Hendrik van der Pol, director of the UIS.

"But there are hidden risks. By directing more funding to top-tier universities, governments may overlook pockets of excellence in other institutions."

Keeping up with rising demand

Across Asia, higher education systems are expanding with government support to construct new campuses, hire more professors and expand the private sector.

Universities are also introducing new graduate programmes that enable them to keep up with the rising demand for higher education by producing more professors with higher qualifications.

Countries are increasing investment in graduate programmes, but this may ultimately lead to a reduction in funding for undergraduate education.

The report highlights ways to strike a balance by examining policies in Malaysia and Thailand.

Both governments have sought to expand their graduate education programmes over the past decade.

The Malaysian government spends about twice as much per higher-education student as Thailand does.

However, Thai universities have a broader resource base and more administrative autonomy than their counterparts in Malaysia.

Across the region, countries are also striving to strengthen their foundations in research and experimental development.

Overall, research and development intensity varies considerably: in South Korea, the rate is 4.0 per cent, in China 1.8 per cent, Malaysia 1.1 per cent, India 0.8 per cent and Thailand 0.25 per cent. The report also compares government investment in applied versus basic research.

Budget for research

In Thailand, for example, 38 per cent of R&D expenditure is devoted to applied research versus 14 per cent to basic research. The rest (48 per cent) goes to experimental development.

In contrast, China devotes 78 per cent of R&D expenditure to experimental development, 17 per cent to applied research and 5 per cent to basic research.

Gwang-jo Kim, director of Unesco Bangkok, said it would "endeavour to provide advice and options on what governments can consider for building quality universities that are more affordable and relevant to the needs of the society and the economy".

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