In a recently released university global ranking – the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016, two Chinese universities -- Beijing University and Tsing Hua University – jumped in rank by double digits to overtake several top global elites. According to the ranking performance breakdown, Beijing and Tsing Hua made double digit gains in both teaching and research – each making up 30 per cent of overall ranking score.
The prominent ranking is called the Emmys, the Olympics of the university world. Getting into top tires in ranking can bring glory, prestige and acknowledgement to the universities comparable to what the Olympic medal winners enjoy. For athletes, Olympic medals open the flood gate of lucrative endorsements, opportunities in sports career and positions in hall of fame. For universities, top rankings bring global visibility, industry funding and competitive edge to recruit the best and top talents.
China, known for its deep obsession with Olympic medals has been striving for every piece of gold in Olympic Games in recent years, leaping ahead with huge achievements in both gold and overall medal ranking. It has adopted the aggressive “excellence initiative” in order to become a serious contender in the global sport competition. China, once dubbed “sick men of Asia” in history, has made to the top spots in both gold and total medal table in Olympic Games in recent history.
China’s desire to gain elite status in global university rankings is parallel to its drive to secure a strong finish in Olympic games. Despite the fact that China had fallen far behind the world’s elites for decades, it has devoted vast resources and tremendous efforts to the education industry to improve research output, students’ enrolment levels and graduates’ employment rates. As a result, China has shown great improvement in global university ranking, earning the bragging right of being the most-improved country in Times university ranking table. By some measures, it has already surpassed a number of universities in G7 countries – including UBC and McGill from Canada.
China is also the most outstanding achiever among BRICA countries. According to reports, in 2014 ranking of leading research universities in emerging countries, China took 23 of the top 100 places. In 2015, it took four additional places, taking its total to 27. China also retains its place at the top of the table, with Peking University holding on to the first place and Tsinghua University second place.
But both Olympics and the Global university ranking competition share a dark side. In the insatiable desire to win the medals and earn top rankings, commercial gains would dominate the players’ agenda. Doping runs rampant in Chinese Olympic teams; China’s academic industry is also plagued with serious wrongdoings -- from fake research results to fabricated peer reviews.
According to the editors of Lance, a top medical journal, the research results, even those from China’s most prestigious universities, have been too often compromised by plagiarism, ghost writing and fabrications. According to the Washington Post, a BioMed Central, a major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews. A partial list of the retracted articles suggests most of them were written by scholars at universities in China.
Despite China’s dazzling medal count in Olympic Games, the doping scandals have negatively affected the country’s image as the world sports superpower. Likewise, the plagiarism and fraud in China’s research culture has also seriously marred its scientific credibility, despite its significant magnitude in China’s scientific contributions. Apparently, if winning has become the only goal to be achieved at any cost, the pursuit of prestige and fame will inevitably end in disgrace and shame.
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