World University Rankings Show China Rising, Europe Falling, and USA Still On Top

Students walk past Wadham College, Oxford University, ahead of the new academic year, amid the coronavirus pandemic in Oxford, Britain, September 17, 2020. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

The Times Higher Education released their World University Rankings for 2021 last month, revealing a few interesting global trends in tertiary schooling.

The University of Oxford has taken the top spot for the fifth year in a row, with Stanford, Harvard, Cal Tech, and M.I.T. rounding out the top five. 

Two of the most interesting stories from this year’s ranking, however, involve the ascendancy of Chinese universities and the decline of those on the European continent. Tsinghua University and Peking University both continue their climb up the rankings, placing 23rd and 24th, respectively. Meanwhile, the European Union can now boast only six of the top 50 universities on the list. This amounts to yet more evidence that the E.U. Commission’s dream of a pan-continental super-state capable of geopolitical rivalry with The U.S. and China is, like Napoleon out of Moscow, receding into the distance. It’s very difficult to achieve and maintain superpower status without global academic supremacy, and we have no reason to think that an ageing, desiccated, and dying Europe is likely to buck this trend. A broad-based brain trust of home-grown, world-beating intellects has been a hallmark of every global hegemon in world history: It’s the sine qua non of geopolitical ascendency in the modern world. 

Which brings us to the United States. By far one of the most infuriating trends on the American right is the prevalent tendency among conservatives to bash and denigrate America’s elite universities. It’s true that they skew left, but so what? Most of the damage done in terms of left-wing worldview indoctrination is accomplished well before kids reach university, in American public schools. If, by the time a student reaches the age of 18, his or her parents are worried that an Ivy League education might radicalize them, then the parents in question probably haven’t educated their children well enough to begin with. Research has born out the fact that, where ideological commitments are concerned, by time freshman year at college begins, the horses have — for the most part — already left the stables. 

Besides, there is hardly a single field in which American Exceptionalism and global dominance is in ruder health than in higher education, as this year’s rankings demonstrate. Nineteen of the top 30 schools on the list are American and only the usual cream of the British crop prevents the USA from having a complete monopoly on the Top 10. 

Conservatives who are convinced of America’s unique greatness shouldn’t let party politics prevent them from acknowledging those areas in which America is uniquely great. Higher education is indisputably one of these areas, and yet conservatives are simply not interested in their country’s achievements in this area. It’s true that most of the faculty and graduates that these schools turn out are progressives, but they’re nevertheless American progressives. The fact that they put their talents to use on these shores is one of the reasons that the United States continues to be the dominant global power of the age. 

Lest any of us forget, this country was actually founded by highly educated coastal elites. Conservatives would do themselves a favor if they stopped running away from this fact as fast as humanly possible. 

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