China overtakes Australia in university humanities ranking

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Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson: “It’s really worrying on a whole lot of levels.”

Australia has surrendered its claim to the Asia Pacific’s best arts university, in the latest sign that local higher education is giving ground to regional rivals.

Peking University has shot up ten places in a league table of tertiary-level arts and humanities institutions, breaking into the top 20 of the Times Higher Education ranking. Meanwhile the best-placed local, Australian National University, slipped eight places to fall out of the top 30.

ANU was also overtaken by universities in Hong Kong and Singapore.

The ranking, released this evening in Seville, lists the world’s best tertiary institutions in the teaching and research of art, design, languages, history, philosophy, theology, architecture and archeology. Its publication comes a week after THE’s overall ranking of universities placed Peking and nearby Tsinghua universities ahead of Australian chart-topper Melbourne University.

It also emerges amid warnings that proposed cuts to university funding will impair Australian universities’ standing in global rankings, reducing their allure to foreign students and jeopardising the $23.6 billion international education industry.

The Group of Eight university network, which represents research-intensive institutions including ANU, said universities had been accused of “crying wolf” over their warnings about funding and its impact on rankings. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” said chief executive Vicki Thomson.

“When you start to see these little slippages at the same time we’re getting universities in Asia rising above us, it’s really worrying on a whole lot of levels. Not only will we lose market share in students from China; increasingly, students from other countries will go to China.

“It’s worrying in terms of our international student market, and it’s worrying in terms of our research capacity. There’s a whole lot of warning signals there that we ignore at our peril.”

ANU’s global standing in arts and humanities has taken a battering, with the national university slipping from 25th spot last year to 33rd place. Peking University rose from 27th to 17th place, with the University of Hong Kong improving two places to 28th and the National University of Singapore an extraordinary 18 places to 30th.

The University of Sydney slumped from 49th to 58th, joining dozens of western universities which lost ground in the ranking. However Melbourne University defied the trend, jumping six places to 35th.

The ranking was dominated by technologically focused US universities, with industrial powerhouse Stanford retaining the number one spot. Massachusetts Institute of Technology jumped seven places to second, relegating Harvard University from equal first to third.

The top two institutions credited their performance to their interdisciplinary nature, with Stanford saying creativity was as essential for technological innovation as for arts and humanities. MIT said its multidisciplinary approach, with undergraduates required to study arts and humanities, was invaluable for educating engineers and scientists.

THE’s editorial director of global rankings, Phil Baty, said this year’s results demonstrated the benefits of connecting the arts and humanities with scientific and technical disciplines.

By JOHN ROSS
The Australian

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