Japanese Universities in World Context

Tomorrow’s Professor just forwarded a list of the top 500 universities in the world. As the introduction says

Attempting to rank universities world-wide is no easy task [which is why very few organizations have tried to do it] and it is easy enough to take exception to the various criteria used. That said, here is a list of the top 500 universities in the world by rank as determined in a study from the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. A much more detailed description of the criteria used, rankings by geographic area, FAQ’s and the questionnaire itself can be found at: http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2004/2004Main.htm

Here are the Japanese institutions which made the list, and their rankings

  • 14, Tokyo Univ
  • 21, Kyoto Univ
  • 54, Osaka Univ
  • 69, Tohoku Univ
  • 97, Nagoya Univ
  • 101-152, Hokkaido Univ, Kyushu Univ, Tokyo Inst Tech, Tsukuba Univ
  • 202-301, Hiroshima Univ, Keio Univ, Kobe Univ, Okayama Univ
  • 302-403, Chiba Univ, Gifu Univ, Gunma Univ, Kanazawa Univ, Nagasaki Univ, Nihon Univ, Niigata Univ, Tokyo Med & Dent Univ, Tokyo Metropolitan Univ, Tokyo Univ Agr & Tech, Univ Tokushima, Waseda Univ, Yamaguchi Univ
  • 404-502, Ehime Univ, Himeji Inst Tech, Jichi Med Sch, Juntendo Univ, Kagoshima Univ, Kumamoto Univ, Nara Inst Sci & Tech, Osaka City Univ, Shinshu Univ, Univ Osaka Prefecture

Keio and Waseda came much further down the list than I expected (the methodology is heavily weighted towards natural science and against social/humanistic studies), though I was gratified to see my research host Yamaguchi U [currently searching for an English instructor] on the list, not to mention Nagoya, my first Japanese hometown.

Side note: why don’t most Japanese universities have official university logo apparel? I know, sweats and T-shirts aren’t all that popular in Japan, and the major ones do (I always loved Keio’s crossed fountain pen nibs). But we had to take a photocopy of the Yamaguchi university logo to a print-shop so we would have T-shirts to trade with our family and friends. The only way to get logo stuff, it seemed, was to belong to one of the clubs, each of which had its own official seal and signs.

On a per capita basis, this is a very good showing; on a GDP basis, it’s just about right, or a bit underperforming (You can see the breakdown by country here). Though not all higher education is created equal, and there are significant pathologies present in Japanese higher-ed, it still bodes well, I think, as a rough measure of the likelihood that Japan will continue to be a strongly productive and innovative economy. The particularly strong showing of technical schools certainly suggests that to me.

One historical note: most of the universities on this list were the product of the US Occupation education reforms, particularly the insistence on public universities in every prefecture. Who would have guessed that in sixty years Japan would fill 1/15th of the world’s best list?

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