NUS rises to No. 3 in Asia, NTU slips in Times rankings

Magazine editor 'surprised' by NTU's slide given past standing

The National University of Singapore (NUS) campus. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
The National University of Singapore (NUS) campus. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which has been climbing several university league tables, took a tumble in the latest Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings released this morning.

It fell from the 71st to 80th band last year to the 91st to 100th band.

The London-based magazine, which described this as "a surprise", said the university's decision last year to deny journalism professor Cherian George tenure could have hurt its standing with academics abroad.

The National University of Singapore meanwhile moved up a spot to No. 21, making it the third highest ranked Asian university behind Tokyo University and Kyoto University. Only the top 50 schools are given a specific rank.

As in previous years, American universities led the table, with Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford in the top three.

Asked about NTU's slide, the British magazine's rankings editor, Mr Phil Baty, admitted it was "something of a surprise" to Times, which based this year's ranking on the opinions of some 10,500 senior academics.

He noted NTU has been one of the "star performers" across a range of recent global rankings, having made considerable gains in areas such as international activity and research output.

As the reputation rankings were based on the subjective opinions of academics, who had to nominate the best institutions in their field of expertise, he could only "speculate" why NTU slipped. The Dr George issue could have been one factor, he added.

He pointed out that academics were surveyed between March and May last year, the same time when the controversial decision to deny Dr George tenure received international coverage.

When NTU first made its decision in February last year, there was speculation that it was politically motivated due to Dr George's past criticism of the Government.

Two external reviewers of his application decried the decision, citing his strong teaching and research record at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Eighteen foreign academics signed an online statement asking NTU to clarify its decision. In May, when Dr George's appeal was turned down, four senior faculty members who wrote to the university president warned that the controversy could cause "serious damage" to the school's reputation.

Dr George, 48, left his teaching position at NTU last month, but still serves as director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of Temasek Foundation and NTU.

Asked about its new Times ranking, NTU president Bertil Andersson said he was disappointed since the university's own indicators showed its reputation has been on the rise. For instance, an increasing number of international companies and universities want to collaborate with NTU.

"However, these reputation figures constitute soft data and are the most subjective part of rankings. The results can vary depending on the people surveyed each year."

Mr Baty stressed that the top 100 list represents just 0.5 per cent of the world's higher-education institutions. "So NTU remains very much among a tiny elite of the world's most prestigious institutions."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.