China has around 2,000 formally recognised universities, ranging from small private highly specialised institutions through to large, comprehensive universities falling under the direct control of the Ministry of Education (MOE). Australian universities have been active in engaging with a range of these institutions, with the 2014 survey (Download - International Links of Australian Universities - October 2014) from Universities Australia showing that Australian universities have more than 1,200 formal agreements with Chinese universities, a 170% increase on the number of agreements with China in 2003.
In November 2015, China announced plans to develop a number of world class universities by 2020 with some universities to be among the best in the world by 2030 (see our recent article for more information on these plans). These plans build on China’s efforts since the mid-1990s to develop some of its universities to attain world class status under the “211” project and the more recent “985” project.
The “211” project (the name is an abbreviation of the 21st century and the approximate number of universities, 100) began in 1995 and saw funding given to more than 100 universities to develop their research standards and capacity. The MOE currently lists 117 universities (in Chinese) under the “211” project.
The “985” project (the name is derived from the date of the project, announced in May 1998 – or 98/5) has seen a number of universities (a subset of “211” project members) receive substantial additional funding to promote the growth and reputation of China’s higher education system. Initially, nine universities were selected under the “985” project (these nine research intensive universities are also referred to as the C9 universities or the C9 League), with an additional 30 universities being added under a second phase of the “985” project in 2004. The MOE lists all 39 universities (in Chinese) taking part in the “985” project.
Institutions in the “211” project, and particularly those in the “985” and the C9, are generally seen in China to be the most prestigious and highest quality universities in China.
Globally, there are three commonly cited international rankings of world universities – the Academic Rankings of World Universities (or ARWU – formerly known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong Rankings), the Times Higher Education World Rankings, and the QS World Rankings. Looking at these rankings Chinese universities perform relatively well, with 32 universities being listed in the top 500 in the world in the 2015 ARWU rankings, 37 listed in the top 800 in the world in the 2015 Times Higher Education rankings and 30 listed in the top 650 in the world in the 2015 QS rankings. China had only nine universities listed in the top 500 in the world in the first ARWU rankings produced in 2003, and 25 in the top 700 in the 2013 QS rankings.
All nine C9 universities appear in each of the three major 2015 international rankings, with four of them making the top 100 on the QS rankings, and two making the top 100 on the Times Higher Education rankings. No Chinese universities make the top 100 on the ARWU rankings.
Almost all (35 out of 39) “985” universities appear on at least one of the major 2015 international rankings, as do eight other “211” universities and three universities that are not members of the “211” project.
A composite table showing all of the “985” universities with their global rankings, along with the 11 non-“985” universities that appear on at least one world ranking list is shown below as table 1.
In addition to the international rankings, there are also a number of rankings of universities produced by organisations within China, focusing on different aspects of university performance. Two of the most highly regarded rankings are those compiled by the Chinese University Alumni Association (CUAA) and the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Centre (CDGDC – an MOE affiliate organisation).
The CUAA compiles rankings each year, taking universities’ teaching staff and resources, scientific research level, talent training quality and reputation as indicators, basing the evaluation on a combination of calculation of publicly available data, materials submitted by the institution, and peer review. The CUAA has compiled a 2015 ranking of the top Chinese universities, which is shown below as table 2.
The CDGDC produce a ranking of Chinese universities by field and discipline, which is published every four years. The latest ranking is for 2012, and shows the top ten universities for each of eleven disciplines across four broad fields. The ranking is shown below as table 3. The next ranking is expected to be released at some stage next year.
For China, the Chinese government’s investment in universities through its “211” and “985” projects, and its latest plan to develop a world class higher education system, means that the research capability and international reputation of its best universities are growing rapidly. Even in some universities that are not yet highly ranked in the international rankings, there are growing pockets of research strength in some areas.
The three commonly cited international university rankings and the Chinese-specific rankings produced by CUAA and CDGDC together provide Australian universities and research organisations with a useful starting point for identifying the right Chinese partner universities that are either strong overall or in specific areas of interest. - International Education, Australian Government
See the tables of Chinese institutions in major global rankings, Chinese University CUAA Rankings and CDGDC China Discipline Rankings here.
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