Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Best Universities in the World

Joanne Jacobs has links to a study listing the top 500 universities in the world. According to the report, nine of the top ten schools are American and seventeen of the top twenty are. All told the United States had 170 universities make the top 500. Click here to see the listing by region and by country.

Jacobs notes that:

Only 35 countries have at least one university among the 500 (more exactly 502) best. While Israel (population around 6 millions or 0.1% of mankind) has 7 of these, all the Islamic countries together (maybe 1/5 of mankind) have not a single one.

Viewpoint will leave the reader to ponder why that may be.

It's not clear, of course, how helpful this type of list is or what it really portends. The schools were evaluated mostly on the basis of their reputations for math/science excellence and some might argue that that's an incomplete measure of the quality of a school.

A number of the comments at Jacobs' site address the question how the U.S. schools can rank so high when our secondary education is so abysmal. Some of the speculation focusses on the high number of foreign-born professors on our university faculties, but we're not too sure that's the answer. Anyone who's ever sat in on lectures given by many of these foreign-born instructors is often outraged that he's paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for classes in which he cannot understand a single word of what's being taught.

There's no way to support this, perhaps, but I suspect that part of the reason our universities are so good is because public education in the U.S. is not really as bad as we're often led to believe. Students who want to get a good education and go on to a major university can usually get an excellent preparation in many of our high schools. Once these students complete their post-secondary education the universities draw from their ranks to supply their own faculties. Our high school test scores are poor overall because an increasing number of students in the last forty years are much less concerned with securing the best education they can and are much more concerned with academically peripheral matters like after-school jobs and extra-curricular activities, or they are handicapped by a substandard home life.

Most public schools and their teachers offer our young people a good to excellent opportunity for learning, but too many students are coming to school unprepared, unwilling or unable to avail themselves of that opportunity. Nevertheless, the students who do take advantage of the education American schools offer are the ones who are making our universities the best in the world.