You are here

Interested in studying in South Korea?

Check out our comprehensive guide!

Korean Universities Strong in 2012 Asia Rankings

Korean Universities Strong in 2012 Asia Rankings main image

Topuniversities.com editor Danny Byrne analyses the strong performance of South Korean universities in the 2012 QS University Rankings: Asia.

This year’s edition of the QS University Rankings: Asia suggests that Korea’s ambitious higher education investments are beginning to pay dividends.

The top three positions are still taken by Hong Kong and Singapore, with HKUST retaining the number one spot it first earned in 2011, ahead of NUS and HKU.

However, the success of Korean institutions is one of the major talking points of this year’s rankings.

A remarkable 15 of the leading 16 Korea universities improved their position this time round, a near blanket trend that suggests higher education in Korea as a whole is advancing ahead of the general rate of its Asian peers.

Seoul National University moves to a record high position of fourth in Asia, while younger institutions KAIST (7) and Postech (9) move into the top ten. Korea now has three of Asia’s top ten universities, an achievement matched only by Hong Kong.

Korea’s total of 55 universities in the top 300 is third behind Japan and China, which have 73 and 72 respectively.

This is an outstanding achievement given the discrepancy in the size of their populations, and is testament to the sustained emphasis on higher education that has transformed the participation rate from among the lowest to the highest in the OECD in the space of a generation.

This is the fourth edition of QS University Rankings: Asia, which is a regional variant of the well-known QS World University Rankings, produced annually since 2004.

Universities are judged using nine indicators, split into four key areas: research, employability, teaching and internationalization.

Data includes a major reputational survey drawing on the views of thousands of academics and employers across Asia, alongside figures on research publications and citations, student/faculty ratios, the proportion of international students and staff, and both inbound and outbound exchange students.

The employer reputation survey asks major graduate employers throughout Asia to identify the universities that have produced the most highly skilled and competent graduates, providing an insight into which universities are most successful in preparing their graduates for the workplace.

Yonsei University takes Korea’s highest score in this measure, ahead of SNU, Korea University and KAIST. Few other Korean universities score particularly highly in this indicator, which may be a reflection of their not being particularly well known by employers elsewhere in Asia, as well as a relative lack of regional employment mobility among Korean graduates.

In terms of academic reputation, Seoul National University has been recognized by academics throughout Asia as the number one Korean institution, achieving the maximum score of 100.

KAIST in particular is also now highly regarded throughout the continent, and alongside Postech its strong performance is even more impressive given that as specialist institutions they are competing with universities that operate in a far wider range of disciplines. Yonsei and Korea University also record outstanding scores in this indicator.

Academics are asked to list the leading universities in their field of expertise, so the academic reputation survey naturally ties in with the measures of research strength, measured via the number of published papers per faculty member, and citations per paper.

In terms of the rate at which their academics publish research papers in academic journals, KAIST and Postech are now among the most productive universities in Asia, scoring higher than any other university in the top ten, including SNU.

What is perhaps even more significant in the case of Postech, is that it also has an excellent score for citations per paper. This shows that not only has research volume improved, it is also of sufficiently high quality to be exerting a tangible impact within the global academic community.

Aside from the three leading institutions, other Korean universities producing highly cited research include Yonsei, University of Ulsan, Sungkyunkwan University and Ewha Womans University.

However, in terms of papers per faculty, there is still a large discrepancy between the scores of the leading three Korean universities and their peers, reflecting their research-intensive nature, as well as the comparatively rapid publication rates in the science and technology disciplines in which KAIST and Postech specialize.

The stranglehold of universities from Hong Kong and Singapore on the top three spots is partly down to their highly international nature. Universities such as HKUST, NUS and HKU have attracted large numbers of high-quality students and faculty from all over the world, pushing up standards across the board and turning them into international centres of excellence.

Particularly in the case of China and Japan this international pulling power has been difficult to replicate, yet this year’s results suggest that Korean universities are becoming much more cosmopolitan and diverse.

Postech in particular has succeeded in attracting large numbers of international faculty, and it is well ahead of other Korean universities in this regard, though Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and SNU also score well. SNU has by far the highest proportion of international students ahead of Kyung Hee University and Sungkyunkwan University.

Korean universities are also participating much more actively in international exchange programs, though the fact that the majority score higher for inbound than outbound students suggests Korean students are still not as internationally minded as some of their peers elsewhere in Asia.

In a country in which higher education is taken exceptionally seriously, these rankings provide compelling evidence that progress is being made towards the goal of developing Korea’s leading universities into internationally respected centres of excellence.

A new companion table, QS Top 50 Under 50, puts this progress into a global perspective by ranking the leading universities worldwide established since 1962. The fact that KAIST and Postech figure as two of the top ten universities in the world under the age of 50 shows that rapid progress is being made.

Asia’s remarkable haul of six of the top ten young universities in the world shows that there is plenty of cause for optimism about the long-terms prospects of universities in this dynamic part of the world.

Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Danny B.

Want to leave a comment?

Please login or register to post
comment above our articles


Hello,i would like to know about the results for applying to the korean universities. Explain it for me,thank you.

Hi Nurul, you can view the latest Asia rankings results here