A Primer on the NetBig.com Chinese University Rankings

U.S. News and World Report published its first university rankings in 1983. The rankings were initially done bi-annually and now are published every year. In 1983, the Chinese education systems had just rejuvenated from the disastrous culture revolution when education was seen at best useless if not harmful to the socialist regime. Anyone who lived through those years can recall vividly how an admission into any college would stir up the entire neighborhood and ones relatives. A college degree in those years implied certainly highly paid jobs. With a population where opportunity was so scarce, education was short of supply. Tens of millions of youngsters bid for one out of 300,000 college position each year. Every year, millions of pre-selected high school students sat in the National College Entrance Exam, and only a very lucky few would make to colleges. People would basically be satisfied with any college education. The choice of college and how colleges were run were not of much concern.

Now as China has undergone more than 20 years of market oriented reform, the role of university education has been fundamentally changed. University education, which was designed to train the very few, is now reaching the many. In 1998 the size of freshman class stands at 1,100,000. The competition between universities in securing funding and good students becomes keen. The government as an investor and the students as a consumer select colleges with vigor and great care. Colleges, viewed by many as the last strong hold of the central-planning economy, have become more aware of the impact of market force. The administration now understands that, they have to be more than educators, they have to raise and use well the educational funds. There is now a great demand for market measures, with which universities could learn their market position and define its competitiveness. These same measures are also critical for the government in assessing the performance of the university administration. Most importantly, these measures can serve as a ¡°shopping guide¡± for the general society, students as well as those who care about them.

To help the ultimate consumer of education is our goal in publishing this NetBig.com Chinese University Rankings 1999. Nevertheless, NetBig.com rankings shall not be used as the sole selection criterion in making decisions. As a matter of fact, there may not ever be such a sole criterion, and with regard to the ranking, there may not be such a perfect and indisputable rankings. Every university has now its own admission toolkits. Many of them are now available on the Internet. Much information could be obtained from these sources. The high school students of course could enjoy the consultation of their teachers, parents and friends. Our rankings, used with wise consultation, could serve as a useful guide in selecting a college.

By publishing NetBig.com University Rankings, we could present various statistics of different universities in China in a consolidated fashion. Their strength and weakness should be made obvious with our rankings. The overall rankings have been made based upon six indices in four categories including academic quality, student quality, teaching resources and research funding. We have used two indices to measure a university¡¯s academic reputations. These include 1) general academic reputation and 2) academic publications, both Chinese and international. A single index is used to reflect ¡°student quality¡±: 3) the average score of the enrolled student in the National College Entrance Examination. Two indices are used to reflect the ¡°teaching resources¡±: 4) the ratio of teachers with academic title of associate professor and higher, and 5) the faculty student ratio. A single index is used to gauge the research funding: 6) the annual university research expenditure. Different index carries a different weight. A detailed illustration on our computation methods and ranking methodology can be found in the section How NetBig.com ranks University.

Ranking the universities proves to be a daunting task. The Chinese educational systems were set up in the years of planning economy. As a result, there is a matrix system of schools with location/region in one dimension and the affiliated ministry in the other dimension. Only 74 of the total 1020 universities are comprehensive universities. Another 278 institutions are with a specialty in sciences and engineering. There are a large group of institutions with different specialties such as medicine and pharmacy, teaching, agriculture, political sciences and law, forestry, arts, physical education, and languages. In ranking all of these schools together, we may compare apples with oranges. It may be argued that we shall rank according to different specialties. There are two reasons why we rank all the universities together: 1) Many specialty schools have now expanded itself into something more comprehensive. For example, it is no surprise to find a business school even a law school in a university with specialty in science and technology. 2) The difficulty in accessing data makes a comparison in specialty impossible.

In setting up a criterion and assigning a weight to different measures of quality, we have borrowed from renowned ranking agency such as U.S. News and World Reports as well as consultation with field experts. Due to the lack of data, we however are not able to do a study as comprehensive as their study in U.S. We have settled with 6 measures of academic excellence in our computational methodology. This number certainly is no comparison to the 16 indices used in the U.S. universities ranking; it is however what we could get with our access of data. Our rankings, however, shares with the U.S. News rankings in that both rankings have been based on objective statistics complemented with the more subjective expert opinion.

NetBig.com, as an outside agency, provides the first consumer-oriented rankings of Chinese universities. Previous rankings of Chinese Universities have been done by government agencies. Those rankings were built to serve the government who funds and administers the universities. We therefore differ from them in our perspectives. In addition, we are much more comprehensive than the existing Chinese Universities rankings where universities are measured according to a single index of research output. The NetBig.com rankings is a big step ahead as we incorporate both the information on student selectivity and the academic reputation as viewed by renowned academics in generating our rankings. The student selectivity, to a certain degree, reflects the opinion of a particular school in the view of the student community. The academic reputation viewed by renowned academics reflects the opinion of the academic elite. The NetBig.com rankings in synthesizing this information serves as an instrument in channeling the opinion of both the student community and the academic elite to the general society.

The first NetBig.com ranking has been constrained heavily by data availability. For example, four out of our six measures of academic excellence are the so-called ¡°input measure¡± and only 2 are ¡°outcome measure¡±. As a good indicator of the success of a university would measure how much value it adds to its student body, the use of more ¡°output measure¡± will definitely improve the rankings quality. Indeed, we could do much better in various dimensions if data were not such a problem. This limited data availability has to do with a backward education administration system where transparency and accountability is a rarity. As the education systems become more market oriented and with a more open and cooperative attitude on the part of university administration, we expect more data will be available and many improvements can be made in our ranking methodology. The U.S. experience has proved that a rankings by a neutral and independent agency would serve an important and beneficial social purpose. We believe the rankings by NetBig.com will play a similar role in the Chinese society.