Harvard tops Chinese university rankings for eighth year

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Harvard topped a Chinese ranking of world universities published Friday for the eighth year running -- a list dominated by US institutions and sharply criticised in Europe.

The University of California at Berkeley was second, followed by Stanford, according to the list of 500 institutions compiled by Jiaotong University's Centre for World-Class Universities in Shanghai, available at www.arwu.org.

The rankings are focused almost entirely on a university's achievements in scientific research, and do not cover the humanities -- prompting concerns that they do not accurately reflect an institution's overall performance.

Jiaotong uses criteria such as the number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won by staff and alumni, the number of highly cited researchers on staff, and the number of articles by faculty published in Nature and Science magazines.

The rankings have come in for sharp criticism, notably in Europe, where officials say the criteria are biased against European schools.

The list was the first global ranking of universities when it made its debut in 2003. It was intended to benchmark the performance of Chinese universities, to help Beijing's efforts to create a set of world-class research institutions.

The highest-ranked non-US institutions this year were Britain's Cambridge and Oxford universities, in fifth and 10th places respectively.

Also in the top 10 were Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Princeton, Columbia and the University of Chicago.

In 20th place, the University of Tokyo was the best rated in the Asia-Pacific region.

US universities took 54 of the top 100 places.

The European continent's top-rated institute was the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, at 23rd, while Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris was the highest-ranked French school in 39th position.

The top Chinese schools were Peking University and Tsinghua University, which were in the tranche of institutions ranked 151st to 200th.

Germany came in with the second highest number of schools in the top 500, far behind the United States, but ahead of Britain, Japan and France.

France -- keen to improve its results in Jiaotong's rankings, which favour larger universities -- is investing five billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) in "Operation Campus" to group universities into larger research centres.

France's minister for higher education, Valerie Pecresse, visited Jiaotong last month to promote the campus campaign and lobby for French universities.

A Norwegian minister also visited Jiaotong last year and Denmark's science and innovation minister is due to come next month to discuss the rankings, the Shanghai university said.

However, experts have argued the rankings may have limited value for universities outside China.

Michaela Saisana, an analyst for the European Commission, has studied the rankings' methodology and believes it fails to account for the specific strengths or missions of the world's top schools.

"They're fine for explaining how close the Chinese are to the rest, such as Europe or the US, but not for comparisons amongst universities," she said.

The European Union plans to issue its own rankings by next year -- offering ratings by academic discipline in map form, as a way to help students with the application process.

© 2010 AFP

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