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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: June 17, 2011 NO. 25 JUNE 23, 2011
Tangled Rankings
Declining recognition of top university lists prompts China to look for new ways to evaluate its higher learning institutions

RANKING DOMINATOR: Alumni of Tsinghua University gather to celebrate its 100th anniversary on April 24 (CUI XINYU)

Zhejiang University for the first time has overtaken Peking University and Tsinghua University to rank No.1 on the latest list of Chinese college rankings. The rankings are an important part of the book Picking Your University and Choosing Your Major—A Guide to Filling in the 2011 College Entrance Exam, which is compiled by Wu Shulian, a researcher at the Guangdong Academy of Management Science.

This is the 10th consecutive year the China Statistics Publishing House has published the manual and the rankings, which compare 706 Chinese universities. It was immensely popular with students about to take the national college entrance exam in early June.

Zhejiang University topped the list with 207.91 points in comprehensive strength. Peking University received a 200.34 score, making second place. Tsinghua University, champion for 14 consecutive years, fell to third place with 190.25 points.

Zhejiang University's ascent marks an end to the 18-year iron grip on first place either by Tsinghua University or Peking University on Wu's rankings list, and the 24-year hold on the top spot by either university since the first national university rankings were compiled by the China Academy of Management Science for Scientific Research and published in the Guangming Daily in 1987.

Zhejiang University's previous highest ranking on the list was second place in 2001 and its lowest ever ranking was sixth place in 1993.

The list also ranks Chinese university professors' per-capita efficiency. Tsinghua took top place this year, followed by Nanjing University and Peking University.

China has a number of awards that represent its top levels of academic excellence. These include the National Awards for Science and Technology, the National Awards for Natural Sciences, the National Awards for Technological Innovation, the National Awards for Progress in the Fields of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Education's Awards for Excellence in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Peking University led the category for most awards received. Tsinghua University came in second place and Zhejiang University took third place.

Peking University also was the best school for 26 majors of study. Tsinghua University led in 21 different majors and Zhejiang University scored highest in 13 different majors.

Some education observers say such a reshuffle of university rankings reflects the educational progress is closely related to the economic development. They predict the strength of higher learning institutions in economically developed regions, including Shanghai and Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces in east China, will continue to rise.

Controversial credibility

But there's constant doubt about the authority and credibility of such university rankings, especially when Wu was alleged to be involved in a pay-for-ranking scandal.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities, an annual rankings list published by the Center for World-Class Universities and the Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University since 2003, is regarded as one of the three most influential and widely observed international university rankings, along with the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It compares more than 1,000 universities worldwide taking into account the number of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, number of highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific, number of articles published in journals of Nature and Science, number of articles indexed in Science Citation Index-Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, and per-capita performance with respect to the size of an institution.

Though the methodology of Wu's rankings is similar to that adopted by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, it is constantly subject to criticism, targeting the accuracy of evaluating indicators.

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