Chapter 20: Are university rankings still important? Perspectives from Greater China
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The prevalence of university rankings is attributed to the aspirational goal of building world-class universities around the world. Since higher education has increasingly become an integral part of the knowledge economy, universities are assigned to play a strategic role in facilitating the post-industrial transformation of their countries. In this context, world-class universities are considered core national institutions accelerating such economic growth and transformation; and global university rankings are often employed as convenient ways to identify the image of a world-class university. Considering this “world-class movement” as the wider context, this chapter examines how university rankings are used to guide the development of higher education systems in three Chinese societies - mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Specifically, the chapter reveals that global university rankings were influential in the three Chinese societies because they were consistent with an outward-oriented strategy in higher education, which were featured by an eagerness to transplant norms and standards from the West for achieving the world-class status. Such an outward-oriented strategy can be seen as the consequence of a “catch-up” mentality, with which the orientation of higher education development was habitually set out in an East-West dichotomy, and internationalisation of higher education was often interpreted as Westernisation. In the past two decades, this orientation was accelerated and intensified in the context of globalisation. However, we acknowledge that recently higher education policies have changed and may reveal a move towards a relatively inward-oriented approach in these Chinese societies. We argue that these policy changes may illustrate a shift from an outward-oriented strategy to a relatively inward-oriented approach, as social responsibility, public role, and national and local linkages and characteristics are highlighted. University rankings were influential owing to their close alignment with the outward-oriented strategy adopted by the three higher education systems. The shift toward a relatively inward-oriented approach may imply that the close alignment no longer exits. Based on this observation, this chapter discusses the possible impact of these policy changes on the relevance of university rankings to the higher education development in the three Chinese societies.

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