Global Cooperation

See why East Asian universities have risen up the world university rankings

People cycle past the auditorium of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, ranking 12th in the THE world university rankings

Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, ranking 12th in the THE world university rankings Image: REUTERS/Thomas Peter AUNI

Phil Baty
Chief Global Affairs Officer, Times Higher Education
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Cooperation?
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Cooperation

Listen to the article

  • The University of Oxford tops the leaderboard for the eighth year running, but East Asian universities are climbing the world university rankings.
  • China has two top-15 universities in the world university rankings for the first time ever.
  • The US and UK’s lost ground looks to be influenced by a fall in research funding, as competing national systems power up the knowledge creation and innovation potential of their universities through sustained research investment.

The data is in. 16.5 million research publications have been analysed. 68,000 survey responses have been collected from academics worldwide. Over 2,600 research-intensive universities from 127 countries have been assessed. The results of the 2024 edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings have arrived.

The headline is that the UK’s University of Oxford has topped the ranking for the eighth year in a row – the longest time any university has held the number one position in the 20-year history of the world university rankings. It leads a pack of Anglo-American universities that continue to dominate the upper echelons of the prestigious global list: Stanford takes second place; MIT third; Harvard fourth; and the University of Cambridge takes fifth.

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024
Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 Image: Times Higher Education

But the story behind the rankings’ 20th edition is the longer-term relative decline of the US and UK, challenged by the continued impressive rise of East Asia – and China in particular.

China now has two top-15 universities in the world university rankings for the first time ever – as Beijing’s Tsinghua University (12th, up from 16th) and Peking University (14th, up from 17th) edge closer to the world top ten and move ahead of US flagships, University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University. But it is not just China’s two capital city institutions that are making impressive progress: Shanghai’s Fudan University (44) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (43) are both now in the world's top 50, while China now boasts 13 world top-200 universities, up from 11 last year and just seven in 2020.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024, top ten universities in China
Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024, top ten universities in China Image: Times Higher Education

As Denis Simon, professor of global business at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, told Times Higher Education, the rise of China is one of the most momentous phenomena of the 21st century, the question should never have been 'if' Chinese universities will crack the world top 10, but rather 'when' they will.

THE World University Rankings

The THE World University Rankings are built on strong data foundations and have become a powerful barometer of the geopolitics of knowledge creation and national strength in the global market for international talent. The methodology covers the full range of priorities for globally-facing, ambitious research universities across 17 separate performance metrics grouped into key performance pillars: teaching; research; industry links; and international outlook.

Have you read?

The changes in the world university rankings pecking order run deeper than simply the eye-catching movers and shakers at the very top of the list. In total, 1,904 universities made the final ranking list and longitudinal analysis by THE’s data team shows the extent of the US and UK decline relative to other national systems. The study of six years' of data, covering countries with at least ten universities included in the rankings every year since 2019, shows that the average rank of US universities has declined from 296 in 2019 to 348 in the latest table; the UK’s average rank has also dropped, to a lesser extent, from 451 to 477. In contrast, the average rank of universities in China improved - from 635 to 502.

The US and UK’s lost ground looks to be influenced by a relative decline in research funding, as competing national systems power-up the knowledge creation and innovation potential of their universities through sustained research investment. As nations worldwide invest in university research, the UK’s absolute amount of research income per academic, for example, has fallen since 2019 – albeit by a very modest 0.3 per cent to $58,800.

As well as China, knowledge-intensive Asian nations, including South Korea, Singapore and Japan, have all had a strong year in the world rankings. An unprecedented 33 Asian universities have joined the elite world top-200 list, up from 28 last year – with Macao joining the 200 club for the first time as University of Macau takes 193rd place.

Alongside the rise of Asia, there are other forces contributing to what has been described as a steady “global levelling up” in higher education and research, eroding the historic dominance of the West.

Africa now has 113 universities in the world university rankings, up from 97 last year – and 135% more than six years ago. Africa’s only world top-200 university remains the University of Cape Town in South Africa (167th), but this year saw the University of Johannesburg rise into the world top 500 for the first time and University of Pretoria enter the top 600.

Commenting on the new rankings data, Ming Cheng, professor of higher education at Sheffield Hallam University, told THE that the “waning” relative power of the US and UK suggests a shift of the knowledge economy from West to East. “Perhaps universities in the US and UK could consider learning about the good practices from China,” she said.

A more diverse, and internationally collaborative approach to best practice in higher education and research, as we look to universities to tackle our shared, global grand challenges, is surely welcome.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Unlocking Africa's $1 trillion food economy: The role of global aid and sustainable technology

Tunde Kara

April 24, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum