University of Cape Town

Universities in the emerging economies

In Education, News by Tom Cannon

Everyone is familiar with the Times Higher Education World University rankings. Less famed, but equally as intriguing, is their work on universities in Emerging Economies.

Times Higher Education has recently released its 2016 ‘BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings’. It ranks institutions in countries defined as emerging economies by FTSE and includes the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The Emerging Economies rankings use the same indictors as the World University Rankings, but they are tweaked to suit the different aims of universities in emerging economies. Here we take a look at the top five ranked universities and see what can be gleaned from their status in the top five.

1. Peking University, China


Top of the table is China’s prestigious Pekin University. The institution is a member of the C9 league; a union of nine leading universities in mainland China, comparable in many respects to the Ivy League in the United States. Consequently, entry requirements are high and as a result it attracts some of China’s brightest minds.

The university has a strong history of progressive thinking and action. It was influential in China’s New Culture Movement and the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, among many other significant cultural and progressive events.

It also has its own business school – Guanghua School of Management – which strives to nurture future business leaders while promoting social progress. A global outlook is ever present and the Guanghua School of Management encourages student exchanges and maintains close relations with more than 100 leading partner institutes around the world.

The university places a huge emphasis on academic research, focusing heavily on that of a scientific nature. In 2000 the university merged with Beijing Medical University, adding a new range of medical courses. Through 2001 – 2005 over 4,000 research projects were launched.

2. Tsinghua University, China

Denise Chan -CC-AS-2.0

Denise Chan -CC-AS-2.0

Established in in 1911, Tsinghua University is also part of the elite C9 League of universities and is directly affiliated with the Ministry of Education of China. The university motto is ‘Self-Discipline and Social Commitment’ and as such the university is committed to both rigorous academia and development both within China and on a global scale.

Over the years Tsinghua has merged with Beijing’s Central Academy of Art and Design and the Graduate School of the People’s Bank of China to offer a wider range of disciplines. Like Pekin University, entry requirements are high here and admission is very competitive; only 16% of MBA applications are successful.

As well as its academic merit, Tsinghua University is a place of great beauty. The campus hosts features dating back over three centuries including a 1,200 seat auditorium and the Shui Mu Tsinghua Lake. Design plays an integral part throughout the university; the library is housed in one of the oldest buildings on campus and designed by American architect Henry Murphy.

The university now boasts 12 colleges, 48 departments, 41 research institutes, 35 research centres and 167 laboratories. Each year the university publishes ‘Key Promoted Research Projects in Science and Technology Results of Tsinghua University’ which includes the most recent discoveries and developments in the science and technology fields at the university.

3. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russian Federation


Lomonosov Moscow State University was established in 1755 by Russian scientist and writer Mikhail Lomonosov. It is one of the oldest universities in Moscow and part of ‘Stalin’s Seven Sisters’, seven skyscrapers built in the Stalinist style of architecture. The institute was officially inaugurated on January 25th of that year and the date is now known as Students’ Day in Russia.

There are around 1,000 buildings and structures and the campus sprawls over one million square metres. The library system contains over nine million books. The university also houses four museums, a science park, a publishing house, botanical gardens and a boarding house for gifted children.

There is, of course, emphasis on research and Lomonosov Moscow State University has fifteen research centres including Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics, Sternberg Astronomical Institute and the White Sea Biological Station. As well as collaborations within the Eurasion Association of Universities, Lomonosov Moscow State University maintains partnerships with approximately 60 higher education institutes around the world.

4. University of Cape Town, South Africa


Founded in 1829 as the South African College, the University of Cape Town is the oldest higher education institution in the country. The public research university is situated in the port city of Cape Town and enjoys magnificent views across the city.

The university’s motto ‘Spes Bona’ (translates to ‘Good Hope’) reflects its optimistic nature; such as when it became a centre of opposition to the government during the apartheid years. The university admitted a small number of black students during the 1920s and today nearly half of the students are black.

The university boasts over 60 specialist research units spanning a range of subjects, from mental health to urban planning. It’s also home to over 25% of South Africa’s best researchers. These  A-rated researchers are academics who are considered world leaders in their fields by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. Alumni include the heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard (who performed the first successful heart transplant), three Nobel laureates and the novelist JM Coetzee.

5. National Taiwan University, Taiwan


It’s long been considered Taiwan’s most prestigious university and now the National Taiwan University is a research university respected around the globe.

The university has 11 colleges with 54 departments and 103 graduate institutes. It also has four research centres – population and gender studies, condensed matter sciences, biotechnology and biodiversity.

Its alumni include Tsai Ing-wen who is currently serving as the president of Taiwan, Nobel laureate Yuan T. Lee and computer scientist Andrew Yao.


Max Price, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town told Times Higher Education back in 2012: “The production of new knowledge should not be the preserve of the rich and powerful countries of the world.” He argued that in a truly globalised economy, a country needs to fit seamlessly into global systems in order to develop. To do this, research-intensive universities are a must as they underpin economic, cultural and social progress. But in order to achieve this, serious investment is required.


Consider China’s success – it claimed half the top 10 spots and around 20% of the total number of institutions in the latest rankings. But China is thinking big. Earlier this year China declared a new scheme, christened World Class 2.0, with the aim of establishing six of its universities in the leading group of global institutions by 2020. To achieve this, world-class research is needed. For many institutions that would require a shift in perspective. No longer would teaching be the primary objective, research would need to be pushed to the forefront. China’s spending reflects this; its research and development spend increased by an average of 23% a year over the last decade.

As well as financial investment, institutions must create opportunities for free exchange of ideas and encourage collaboration with leading global research institutions. China might have the required funds, but its domestic environment – which has seen outspoken professors fired and calls for patriotic education reinstated – could hinder further global progress.


A domestic environment which values and nourishes further education is a must. Take Brazil for example. Recent legislation has put a cap on the salary of professors. This is an unappealing prospect for the most talented professors, many of whom will inevitably look for employment elsewhere (potentially in the OECD). The country has also asked that 50% of students be admitted according to social and racial quotas. While, of course, breaking down social barriers and being inclusive is important, such a high and imposed quota could be considered restrictive for institutions operating in a global market place.

Many of the emerging economies appreciate the economic and social benefit of higher education than ever before. However, without sufficient funding and support their efforts may fall flat. Developing globally competitive research universities requires a lot of investment but, as more and more emerging economies are realising, their value is priceless.


As for the UK, this rise in international education represents a huge opportunity. Our education system is revered around the world so we are well placed to benefit.

Transnational Education: Some international students want to gain a UK qualification while still living in their own country. Known as TNE, transnational education helps to bolster the profile of UK education around the world. Fortunately we have the technological capability to make it a reality, whether through distance learning programmes, teaching partnerships, off-shore campuses or MOOCs.

Advancing technology: We have some of the most innovative digital learning creators in this country. Case in point is the annual British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) exhibition, which is attended by 34,530 educators and decision makers from 138 countries.


Building international ties: Inevitably new bonds will form between countries who want education and those that can supply it. At the centre of this is a simple idea – an exchange of ideas, systems and people. One way to encourage this is through international placements, such as the Generation UK -China scheme.

Research collaboration: The investment in research in many emerging economises has increased over the last few years. By its very nature research is a participatory, global activity, so it makes obvious sense for the UK to advance it’s collaboration with researchers around the world.

This is a very exciting time to be in the education sector, which is still only in the beginning stages of globalisation. More and more emerging economies are set on expanding their education systems and we in the UK are well placed to embrace all the opportunities this affords.