By Rosie Reed

American universities are descending in the global rankings due to the emergence of what might soon be considered new centers of knowledge. This October, the Times Higher Education (THE) released the results of the world university rankings 2023 which displayed an interesting change in configuration. 

The United Kingdom and the United States (U.S.) remain at the top of the THE world university rankings, with America holding 7 of the top 10 spots and 34 of the top 100 spots. However, the rise of high ranked universities in other countries has been challenging that position. China in particular is becoming an interesting competitor. This is the first time that China has more universities in the rankings than the U.S. with two of their universities, Tsinghua and Peking leading in 16th and 17th place. Besides the rise of Chinese universities, Oceania has the new highest average ranking score. Moreover five new African countries, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Mauritius have made it into the rankings for the first time.

To fully understand what the THE world university rankings express, it is important to note how each university is assessed. Two of the three most meaningful standards that determine a university´s position in the rankings are the volume of research they produce and the influence that research had, which is proxied by the amount of citations. Recent studies have shown that China has produced more research than both the US and Europe combined. A large part of this research has also been among the top 1% of papers most cited, meaning that their research has a large global influence. The rise of Chinese universities in the rankings is therefore no surprise, but the growth in China’s academic supremacy is of salient interest due to the eastern perspective that it surely brings with it.  

Indeed, Global university rankings are a way to set the international agenda in the global knowledge economy. According to the OECD, the rankings of universities have an influence on international relations when it comes to collaborations on discussions regarding research and academic programmes. They also have an impact on crucial topics such as public opinion and institutional decision making. The quality of higher education and of academic research in particular have become politically relevant due to their growing capacity to stimulate economic growth. In turn, they play an important role at the international level, by increasing global competitiveness and individual opportunity.  

From these updated rankings we can gather that there has been an increase in the volume and quality of research from different areas of the world. This should be seen in a positive light due its effect on balancing the landscape of knowledge. However, if Chinese universities continue to increase their production of influential research, we might be seeing a shift in centers of knowledge away from a western ideology and towards an eastern one.