Amidst major funding cuts in British universities, a top US academic has told a London audience that India and China could soon build institutions that match Oxford and Cambridge.
Professor Richard Levin, president of Yale University, said increasing focus in India and China on higher education means that institutions there would be ranked alongside Oxbridge within 25 years.
At a recent event at the London School of Economic (LSE), Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, wondered why Indian universities did not figure in the top 100 in the world and called for achieving such an objective within the next 10 years.
"In 25 years, only a generation's time, these universities (in Asia) could rival the Ivy League. China and India...seek to expand the capacity of their systems of higher education...and aspire simultaneously to create a limited number of world-class universities to take their places among the best," Prof Levin told The Guardian.
"This is an audacious agenda, but China, in particular, has the will and resources that make it feasible. It has built the largest higher education sector in the world in merely a decade."
Prof Levin suggested that some of the top researchers in the world could be increasingly attracted to positions in cities such as Peking and Shanghai. By 2006, China had reportedly invested 1.5 per cent of its GDP on higher education -- nearly triple the rate a decade earlier. His comments come amid fears that British universities risk losing their position among the world's elite following the announcement of sweeping higher education budget cuts, putting at risk research and university places for thousands of students.
Commenting on the funding cuts, Prof Levin said it would be a "shame if the British government didn't recognise the status of Oxford and Cambridge as global leaders."
China has reportedly more than doubled its number of higher education institutions in the last decade from 1,022 to 2,263. More than five million Chinese students enrol in degree courses now, compared with one million in 1997.
British universities make up four of the top 10 institutions in the world, according to rankings from Times Higher Education magazine. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and University College London are the only non-American institutions featured among the global elite. Harvard tops the list, which also features Yale.
"If the emerging nations of Asia concentrate their growing resources on a handful of institutions, tap a worldwide pool of talent, and embrace freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry, they have every prospect of success in building world-class universities," prof Levin said in a lecture to the Higher Education Policy Institute yesterday.
"It will not happen overnight; it will take decades. But it may happen faster than ever before," he said.