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Comparative Education Vol. 47, No.

2, May 2011, 209222

Soft power, university rankings and knowledge production: distinctions between hegemony and self-determination in higher education
William Yat Wai Lo*
Department of Applied Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
Comparative 10.1080/03050068.2011.554092 CCED_A_554092.sgm 0305-0068 Original Taylor 2011 0 00 William will.lo@polyu.edu.hk 000002011 & and Yat Article Francis (print)/1360-0486 Francis WaiLo Education (online)

The purpose of this article is to analyse the nature of the global hegemonies in higher education. While anti-colonial thinkers describe the dominance of the Western paradigm as an oppression of indigenous culture and knowledge and as neo-colonialism in higher education, their arguments lead to such questions as how much self-determination do non-Western countries have? On what basis can the colonised resist the coloniser? To what extent are non-Western nations aware of the Western hegemony? To answer these questions, this article uses the concept of soft power to interrogate how global hegemonies are manifested in higher education agendas. With reference to the pursuit of a world-class status in higher education in East Asia, it discusses how the international inequality in higher education is viewed from the anti-colonial perspective in the existing literature. The article then proposes the soft-power perspective as an alternative way to explain why non-Western countries are willing to follow the AngloAmerican paradigm to develop their higher education systems. Extending this analysis, the article argues that the emerging global university rankings are important resources of soft power that have the potential, as a governance tool, to reshape the global higher education landscape.

Introduction Over two decades ago, Altbach (1987) adopted the centreperiphery model to describe the global landscape of higher education. He pointed out that academic resources are unequally distributed in the contemporary world where prominent higher education institutions in the developed world, mainly referring to AngloAmerican universities, occupy and control most of the means and resources of knowledge production, whereas those in the developing world can only play the role of consumer and follower in the global academia. Such an unequal pattern has been further strengthened under the impacts of globalisation. Some have even argued that globalisation has caused a convergence trend that merely means a process of recolonisation, resulting in reproducing and copying Western practices (Deem, Mok and Lucas 2008). Recent studies, however, suggest that nation states still play a determining role in developing infrastructure and initiatives of higher education. In addition, the rapid economic growth has brought a tide of massification and of the quest for world-class excellence in higher education sectors in some newly industrialised nations, such as Japan, China and the four East Asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea) (Mok 2010). Building centres in peripheries has become
*Email: will.lo@polyu.edu.hk
ISSN 0305-0068 print/ISSN 1360-0486 online 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2011.554092 http://www.informaworld.com


W.Y.W. Lo

a common measure adopted by East Asian countries in response to the global competition in higher education (Altbach and Baln 2007). In this regard, the question how much is hegemony and how much is self-determination? is still the focus of discussion in the dialectic of the global and the local (Vaira 2004; Postiglione 2005). The purpose of this article is to analyse the line between hegemony and selfdetermination with special reference to the higher education systems of East Asian countries. The article delineates and explains the existing anti-colonial perspective on understanding the central status of the Anglo-American paradigm in higher education. It argues that the anti-colonial perspective is inadequate to explain the self-determination of peripheral nations. Therefore, it proposes an alternative perspective by adopting the concept of soft power (Nye 2004). While it is suggested that the emerging global university rankings denote a resource of soft power and a missing link in the transition between the global and the local, the article considers the potential of global rankings for reshaping the global higher education landscape. Perspectives on understanding the empire of knowledge: from oppression to attraction The anti-colonial perspective: an oppression In the recent literature, it has largely been acknowledged that globalisation of higher education has deeply affected higher education worldwide. While traditional and national universities are experiencing increasing competitive pressures generated by the diversified forms of education and intensified cross-border activities, many higher education systems have incorporated global practices and standards in order to survive in the globalised environment (Vaira 2004, 491493). Nevertheless, it has been argued that global scholarship is predominately defined by the West. As Deem, Mok and Lucas (2008, 93) pointed out, in face of the trend of convergence, the quest for best practices and more advanced systems is interpreted as policy copying through which non-Western higher education systems, like those of East Asian countries, have been strongly influenced by the Anglo-American standards and ideologies. Analysing such internationalisation experiences through the anti-colonial lens, globalisation of higher education can be interpreted as a form of neo-colonialism that maintains the patterns of dependency and reinforces the superiority of AngloAmerican scholarship. In fact, this anti-colonial approach to the globalisation of higher education helps connect the dynamics brought by the emergence of the knowledge economy and globalised environment with the inequality between North and South, West and East. In general, analyses based on anti-colonial thoughts argue that while low-income countries (e.g. countries in sub-Saharan Africa) are further marginalised in the process of globalisation (Tikly 2001), high-income peripheral nations (e.g. the four Asian Tigers) are dependent upon Western-based transnational capital and Western forms of knowledge and innovation despite the fact that they have benefited from participating in the global economy (OHearn 1999). With regard to educational research, by the former, commentators focus on the issues of widening inequality caused by globalisation (e.g. brain drain), while, by the latter, debate falls for Western dominance in cultural and scientific spheres (e.g. convergence in higher education). This article focuses on the latter with reference to the East Asian experience. Several accounts of neo-colonialism in the global age are useful in formulating an overview of the anti-colonial perspectives on the development of global higher education. Firstly, Western dominance, which largely refers to the hegemonic bloc constituted

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by the US and the UK, has led to the existence of the centreperiphery platform where universities in the developing world are at a disadvantage in the international network of knowledge production and distribution, even though they play an essential role in their own countries (Altbach 1987; Tikly 2004; Marginson and van der Wende 2007a; Forstorp 2008). Altbach (1987) identifies five elements (namely, the modern university as a Western tradition, the dominance of English, the uneven allocation of research capacity, the control over the means of knowledge communication and the brain drain) that the centreperiphery platform is based on. Secondly, in the global era, neocolonialism is transnational in nature. According to Harvey (2003, 26), empire in the post-Second World War period refers to the ways that economic power flows across and through continuous space, towards or away from territorial entities (such as states or regional power blocks). This means that the form of power is associated with the actions and interests of transnational corporations (TNCs), the workings of global financial markets, the development of new forms of production based on new technologies and the globalization of the labor market, as Tikly added (2004, 174). This transnational feature distinguishes this new imperialism from classical colonialism characterised by country-to-country occupation. The new imperialism on the one hand confirms that the new world order is premised on Western hegemony and that indirect forms of the political and cultural predominance of Western societies are exercised through neocolonialism (Tikly 2004, 175). On the other hand, it addresses the changing role of nation-state in a post-national geography (Appadurai 1996, 2003). As Tikly specified (2004):
dominant global economic interests are to a lesser extent identified with nation states, or even with elites within nation states, but are increasingly transnational in their composition (Robinson & Harris, 2000). This emerging class is tied to TNCs and to global financial firms and funds although it is not of a piece and represents competing mercantilist interests linked to different sections of global capital, regional trading blocks and political interests (Hoogvelt, 1997). (Tikly 2004, 176, emphasis in the original)

Thirdly, extending the above account, territorial terrain is replaced by discursive terrain in the exercises of control and predominance in the global era (Tikly 2004). Tiklys analysis of discourse about development provides a basis for such an understanding of the forms of hegemony in the post-independence settings. As he explained, key organising concepts in relation to development are Western-based (also see Rist 1997; Tucker 1999). The West therefore is able to dominate the discourse of development through defining developed and underdeveloped and through classifying places as developed regions/countries or underdeveloped ones. Hence, if non-Western countries want to join the club of developed nations, they are requested to be civilised. From the anti-colonial perspective, this is equivalent to Westernised and colonised (Tikly 2004, 180187). The world-class movement in East Asia The anti-colonial perspective provides an analytical framework in which the worldclass movement in East Asian higher education can be viewed as a part of modernisation coupled with westernisation and colonisation, along the theme of development. Despite the unequal pattern of global higher education outlined above, many nations in peripheries have put great effort into boosting their higher education in quantitative terms. This development is based on the recognition that higher education plays a key


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role in national development in the knowledge economy. As noted by Postiglione (2005), rapid expansion coupled with increased privatisation has brought East Asian higher education, including that of high-, middle- and low-income countries, onto the road to massification. More importantly, in addition to quantitative growth, some highend/large economies in the region are keen to pursue excellence in quality through building world-class universities in recent years. For instance, Chinas 211 and 985 projects, Japans Centre of Excellence in the 21st Century (COE21) programme, Taiwans five-yearfifty-billion programme and South Koreas Brain Korea 21 (BK21) are special initiatives imposed by these nations to improve the research capacity of selected institutions or research units, thereby facilitating them to achieve worldclass status [see Kim and Nam (2007), Liu (2007), Yonezawa (2007) and Lo (2009) for details]. Under these schemes, a number of top universities in the countries are selected to be awarded a special grant. In return, they are expected to pursue better performance (e.g. in university rankings) and to promote the notion of world-class excellence in the higher education sector. This world-class movement (Mok 2008) is important, not only because it stands for an enforcement of catch-up strategies in higher education within the context of global transition toward post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, but also because it appears that centreperiphery explanation may be losing some explanatory value, as part of the process of global transition (Postiglione 2005, 211). The pursuit of world-class status may eventually generate a number of centres in places conventionally known as peripheries. In this sense, the catch-up strategies of higher education development can make centreperiphery platforms less relevant or even appeal to this thesis of a global higher education landscape. Empirical evidence for this argument includes the increasing use of English in teaching, the emphasis on conducting research publishable in English publication outlets, introducing foreign higher education providers (mainly from the US and the UK) in the territories, recruiting more overseas staff and students, and adopting managerial and neo-liberal values and practices in university governance in the region (Chan and Lo 2008). Supporters think that these policies and actions represent adherence to established paradigms and themes and therefore help enhance education quality and research capacity in peripheral nations (see, for example, Altbach 2007; Mohrman, Ma and Baker 2008). They believe that the development of the knowledge production systems in developing nations can benefit from more active and deeper involvements in the global academic community through such a process of internationalisation. Nevertheless, critics believe these reactions to the global trend are Western domination and oppression over indigenous culture and knowledge (Dei 2006). With the goal of achieving a world-class status, output and quality measures in the West have been transplanted to the East in recent years. Yet, the overemphasis on league tables, citation indexes and performance measures has drawn a great deal of attention and debate in academic communities in the region. Several issues, such as the dominant role of English, the declining status of local studies, the emergence of performativity culture and the negative consequences of role differentiation, have been raised as the negative impacts of the world-class movement on national higher education systems. In this regard, Deem, Mok and Lucas (2008, 93) argue that the world-class movement has created a new dependency culture reinforcing the American-dominated hegemony. Under such a hegemonic influence, many Asian countries have adopted Westernisation or Americanisation as the strategies for internationalising their higher education systems.

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Who is colonising who? The previous section has empirically demonstrated the correlation between the worldclass movement and neo-colonialism in higher education. The process of deterritorialisation then is considered as the means conceptually explaining the nature of dominant interests in the post-independence period by connecting two key concepts, global and colonial. Tikly used the rationalities and programmes of the World Bank as an example to prove that Western hegemony functions as a discursive terrain through the translational governance framework of development agencies. Using Foucaults theory, he pointed out that this form of power and oppression is disciplinary rather than political rationales (Tikly 2004). This strand of the convergence thesis on globalisation is important in terms of providing the possible way to respond to the question who is colonising who? in the post-independence period (cf. Forstorp 2008). However, there is an opposed interpretation concerning globalisation, i.e. the divergence thesis or the concept of reterritorialisation. While the former reasserts the importance of the nation-state through emphasising localisation of and local responses to global trends (Vaira 2004), the latter addresses the role of states as arbiters of various forms of global flow (Appadurai 1996). Applying these concepts to East Asia, it is recognised that owing to specific historical circumstances, states in the region, as developmental states, remain strong in terms of driving the countries towards becoming developed [see Green (2007) for details]. Reasserting the role of the state in governance not only brings the state back in the globalisation discourse, but also leads to questions like on what basis can the colonised resist the coloniser? and to what extent are peripheral nations aware of the Western hegemony? in the anti-colonial discourse. In other words, the anti-colonial perspective on global higher education is useful in highlighting the dominance of the Western paradigm, but is inadequate to explain the self-determination of peripheral nations. It is argued that the core issue here is the nature of the Western hegemony and that the concept of soft power is a possible answer.

The soft-power perspective: an attraction In previous discussions, neo-colonialism has been adopted to interpret the centre periphery platforms of global higher education. This section, however, argues that the concept of soft power developed by Nye (2004) is an alternative to deconstruct the dominance of the Western paradigm. Soft power is a popular term that is increasingly used in international politics. Nye (2004, 5) defined soft power as the power of getting others to want the outcomes that you want through co-opting people rather than coercing them. He pointed out that soft power is not merely the same as influence it is also the ability to attract, and attraction often leads to acquiescence (2004, 6). Based on this concept, he developed a spectrum of power in which behaviours range along from command that enacts hard (commanding) power at one end to co-option that enacts soft (co-optive) power at the other, and corresponding behaviours/sources (see Figure 1) (Nye 2004, 78). There is an awareness of the relations between soft power and higher education in the existing literature. For example, Nye (2005) himself suggested that American higher education is an important resource to enhance the USs soft power in international politics. Similar suggestions can be found within the literature by other
Figure 1. Source: Nye Power. (2004, 8).


W.Y.W. Lo

Figure 1. Power. Source: Nye (2004, 8).

authors projecting Americas and other countries soft power (see, for example, Yang 2007; NSB 2008; Yasushi and McConnell 2008). The focus of these authors is on how higher education can be taken as a national asset in order to expand individual countries influence through winning hearts and minds. Yet, instead of a country-to-country approach, this article uses the typology of power in Nyes theory to deconstruct the discursive basis of global governmentality, thereby developing a soft-power perspective on understanding the Western hegemony in higher education. Different to the anti-colonial analysis, in which the Western dominance is viewed as an oppression of indigenous culture and knowledge, the soft-power perspective considers the central or world-class status of the universities in the West as an attraction for peripheral nations. On the basis of this analysis, the forms of power in higher education range along a continuum (Figure 2). In Figure 2, the world-class image originated from the Anglo-American paradigm represents a resource producing co-optive power in higher education. Given the increasing competition between higher education systems in the globalised environment, many countries, like some in East Asia, are attracted by such a world-class image and therefore are reshaping their higher education sectors by learning or even copying the Western-based world-class model (Deem, Mok and Lucas 2008). While we have witnessed the emerging quest for world-class status across the globe (Altbach and Baln 2007; Huisman 2008), this form of soft power is viewed as an attractiveness generating impacts on a global scale.
Figure 2. Source: developed Power in by higher the author education. based on Nye (2004, 8).

Figure 2. Power in higher education. Source: developed by the author based on Nye (2004, 8).

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Meanwhile, higher education policy of individual nations is seen as a form of hard power within national borders (left panel of Figure 2). Although universities, especially the national top ones, may have some bargaining power in their relation with the government, universities can offer little resistance to government policies in general terms. In East Asia, for example, those countries conventionally with a strong state and/or a large public higher education, like China and Singapore, are more likely to use sticks (threats), while in those countries with a strong civic society and/or a large private higher education, like Taiwan and South Korea, carrots (inducements) are more common in upholding government policies. And, in the reforms for driving towards world-class status, it is suggested that the policies of role differentiation and of concentration of funding provide the functions of coercion and inducement, respectively (Altbach 2007). In this sense, policies, as the direct way to get what the government wants, in the politics of education can be viewed as the exercise of hard power in accordance with Nyes classification. Based on the above account of the spectrum of power in higher education, national borders denote a line between hegemony and self-determination. Yet, if we confirm that national governments are self-determining within their national borders, does it mean that they are autonomous to decide whether or not they should pursue a worldclass image? The recent literature tends to agree that there are autonomous states. Postiglione (2005) for example has argued that states are the buffer, in key areas, between institutions of higher education, especially flagship universities, and the wider global environment despite that there is general agreement about the minimal role of the nation state (2005, 220); that though some states aim to limit their role to a macro-monitoring type, more traditional demands continue, especially on flagship institutions (2005, 221). Green (2007, 23) also said,
at a time when globalization theory predicted the demise of the national economy and the waning of national identity, East Asian growth was driven, above all, by the developmental state, with strong and interventionist Governments often successfully supporting national neo-merchantilist economic policies and strong state identities.

This article does not intend to appeal to this transformationalist approach to globalisation. Nevertheless, it addresses the importance of the emerging global university rankings in the dialectic of the global and the local. It is argued that global university rankings provide the function of institutions along Nyes spectrum of resources of power (right panel of Figure 2). Taking global university rankings as a missing link in the transition from hard power to soft power and between the global and the local, the continuum demonstrates how hegemony and self-determination work within their own scope of influences respectively but interactively. Indeed, taking two principal global university rankings, the research rankings prepared by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the composite rankings from the Times Higher Education Supplement, as examples, recent studies have reported that criteria used in these systems of university comparison have become important considerations in the making of higher education policy and university governance (see, for example, Marginson and van der Wende 2007b; Hazelkorn 2008). For instance, Taiwan and Malaysia clearly state that they aim to develop one of their universities to reach the worlds top 100 universities within a given period of time. Japan, China and South Korea have provided special grants for selected universities to improve their performance in global university rankings (Chan and Lo 2008).


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Based on these observations, global university rankings are interpreted as a mechanism of agenda setting in the global knowledge economy. It provides a much more structured form of soft power that significantly influences the behaviours of individual higher education systems and institutions. In turn, it is argued that states do not have much space to determine their own ways because of the need to follow the agenda (e.g. rankings) set by the external parties within the globalised environment (Marginson 2008). It is important to note that the exercise of soft and hard power is not in a linear (i.e. globalnationinstitution) manner, though the continuum is presented in that way in the diagram. Instead, it is suggested that power relations in higher education, as illustrated in Figure 3, are of a networked form in which individual higher education institutions are influenced by soft (global) and hard (national) power simultaneously. As shown in Figure 3, the paradigm is formulated based on the world-class image generating soft power over states and higher education institutions globally. This impact of paradigm formulation on individual higher education systems is the development of policies and reforms in relation to building a world-class university mentioned earlier, and that on individual higher education institutions is the changing university governance and the related transformation of organisational culture and behaviours. At the same time, those policies and reforms at the systemic level exercise hard power over higher education institutions and enforce the new modes of higher education governance in the territories. This illustration of power in higher education is in line with the concept of multilateral governance that further specifies the changing role of states in the globalised settings (Castells 2000).
Figure 3. Source: drawn Power by the relations author. in global higher education.

Actualising soft power: a new hope Although the two perspectives provide different explanations of the nature of the central status of the West, both of them agree on the existence of a powerful Western hegemony in higher education. Thus, they share a common view on the unequal pattern of international higher education. However, the foundational difference between the two perspectives is about the position of the non-West, peripheral nations. From the anti-colonial perspective, the dominance of the Anglo-American paradigm generates a political and cultural situation that serves as the way to maintain and legit-

Figure 3. Power relations in global higher education. Source: drawn by the author.

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imise Western dominance and privilege (Hickling-Hudson, Matthews and Woods 2004). Hence, its nature is oppressive. This means that the societies that are known as peripheries are passive in the relationship and communication with the centres. Nevertheless, from the soft-power perspective, the Western image is presented as an icon of the world-class status. Then, the strong intention to copy the Western, American-dominated paradigm is understood as the national strategies for catching up with the world-class standards. They copy because they think the Western model is attractive. In this sense, peripheral states are proactive in directing their higher education systems, even though they are limited by the externally-generated requirements. In light of this analysis, the use of university rankings can be understood in three ways. Firstly, university ranking can be adopted as a governing tool. Marginsons analysis of the Chinese use of university rankings provides a good elaboration of how the national will can direct higher education systems in the global environment. He pointed out that the Jiao Tong index has not favoured Chinas universities despite its nationally-funded background. Instead, it exactly demonstrates where the Chinese universities stand because the Chinese government needs to know the capacity of research and development of the Chinese knowledge production sector precisely so as to guide the nation transiting from the labour-intensive, medium technology manufacturing economy to the knowledge-intensive, high-tech economy. In this respect, the Jiao Tong data collection serves as a mechanism that monitors the existing gap in research capacity between Chinas universities and their counterparts in the Western world in accordance with the benchmark of the American comprehensive researchintensive science university. This explanation also largely reflects why Taiwan developed a merely research-, publication-oriented ranking, when it decided to establish its own league table (Marginson 2009, 2324).1 This analysis is along the same lines as the globalists argument. It points out that higher education governance in China as well as Taiwan is increasingly subject to new external standards of measurement. To streamline their internal governance procedures, the two Chinese regimes have developed their own ranking systems (the Jiao Tong ranking in China and the HEEACT ranking in Taiwan) to guide and monitor the development of their higher education systems. In this regard, university rankings are used by these two regimes as governing technologies for aligning the architecture of and advancing the competitiveness of their university sectors (Mok 2010). Secondly, in addition to the impact on governance of individual higher education systems, we should be aware of the potential use of global university rankings as a mechanism of agenda setting in global higher education, if we admit to the analysis of global university rankings as a resource of soft power in the previous section. It is suggested that the ranking, as a mechanism of producing status and reputation, can be used as a resource to expand Chinas influence over other higher education systems through reviewing the criteria used in the league table. It is obvious that the Jiao Tong group is not free in setting the criteria and indicators used in the Jiao Tong index (Liu and Cheng 2005); but, if we agree that the central status of the American university system is connected with Pax Americana, it is possible that the rise of China will bring a relaxation of the Western preconception in global higher education and adding non-Western elements in the Jiao Tong index will be a possible measure to balance Western dominance in the future. With regard to global university ranking as a mechanism of soft power projection, Marginsons analysis of The Times ranking shows how ranking has been used as a national project2 to reduce the American dominance. The empire strikes back the


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way that he describes the league table published by The Times vividly shows the connection between The Times index and Pax Britannica heritage. In fact, the index is heavily grounded on a reputation survey, in which responses are gathered mainly from the UK and the former British colonies. This means that the methods tend to favour the UK universities. In turn, The Times ranking has successfully reduced the American global dominance and sustained the UKs core role in the imperial global geo-politics of knowledge (Marginson 2009, 2527). Marginsons analysis reminds us about the importance of national interest in the geo-politics of knowledge. It demonstrates that the US and its allies (i.e. the UK here) can be competitors, whilst we often generalise the Western dominance as a hegemonic bloc constituted by the US and the UK. In fact, in the competitive global higher education market, the two countries do not share many common interests on this front. Instead, competition between higher education systems for students and other resources has dominated the discourse of the new world order in higher education. The Times ranking then is seen as a successful story of how ranking is used as a tool for actualising soft power to promote national interest in higher education. Thirdly, in light of the concepts of regionalisation and regionalism, it is argued that global university ranking can be used as a zoning technology intensifying cross-border networks and integration in higher education in East Asia. The regionalisation of higher education in Europe, characterised by the Lisbon strategy and the Bologna process, has set an example of how the development of Europe as a region has raised and improved the status and visibility of its higher education sectors globally (Dale 2008). Therefore, we should pay attention to the implications of the emerging ranking systems run by China and Taiwan for other higher education sectors in the region. In fact, these two Chinese regimes have developed their own citation indices in social sciences [namely, Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI) and Taiwan Social Sciences Citation Index (TSSCI)]. We can see the possibility of regionalisation of higher education in Chinese-speaking countries and territories, if these Chinese indices are used in their own university ranking systems. The point of extra regional made by Robertson (2010) further suggests that the extension of the Chinese university ranking systems and indices may not be limited in the region, given the increasing mobility of academics and students, the popularity of learning Chinese language and the growth of Chinese communities in other countries and regions. In this sense, the processes of regionalisation and globalisation of higher education may provide a new platform for normative leadership by China. While the existing literature argues that global university rankings reinforce the Western hegemony in higher education (see, for example, Altbach 2006; Hazelkorn 2008; Marginson 2009),3 the above analyses have underlined the potential use of global university rankings for reducing the Western dominance in knowledge production. From an anti-colonial perspective, we hope that diversification of metrics can contribute to reducing or even eliminating dominance in knowledge production. However, returning to the soft power thesis, the extension of a ranking is dependent on its attractiveness. In this respect, the discipline of a ranking is influential only if it is underpinned by an attractive value, culture or paradigm. Furthermore, as examined, the global university rankings are largely founded on the national interests. In the case of the Jiao Tong ranking, the project was carried out for our academic interests, with potential impact on the strategic planning of Chinese universities, as Liu (2009, 2), a principal member of the Jiao Tong group, said. In this sense, the end of the Western hegemony in higher education may not mean the end of dominance, but the emergence

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of a new hegemony. Nevertheless, the above account of global university rankings provides a post-colonial approach to addressing the importance of ranking as an emerging information and possible governance tool in the globalised and marketised world. It reminds us that it is worth exposing the possibility of designing a culturally and politically neutral global university ranking system in order to achieve diversity in higher education.

Conclusion: departing from anti-colonialism? Though this article proposes the soft-power perspective as an alternative to the anticolonial perspective, it is recognised that both the two perspectives are founded on an anti-colonial conception in a deeper sense. It is obvious that the anti-colonial perspective is characterised with anti-imperial and anti-colonial features. However, if we acknowledge Tiklys analysis of the concept of development, the soft-power perspective may not be that far from the anti-colonial position. Quoting Tikly (2004) once again:
development is a central organizing principle of the entire Western episteme including the discourses of anti-colonial activists who have, given the hegemonic nature of the development discourse, largely been obliged to struggle within its discursive boundaries whereas development had in the past been a natural phenomenon, in the new hegemonic worldview, development took on a transitive meaning, that is, it became something that could be performed by one actor or region over another actor or region. (2004, 181, emphasis in the original)

In light of this discursive expression of development, the notion of attraction in the soft-power thesis is on the basis of the Western definition of development. The East Asian countries think the image of a world-class university is attractive because they position themselves as less developed. In this sense, the soft-power perceptive probably has moved forward from an enduring feature of the anti-colonial thought embedded in an international inequality between North and South, West and East, white and coloured, but it does not depart from the inequality between developed and underdeveloped manifested in the Western discourse. While this article commits to anti-colonial thought, it has proposed an alluring prospect that makes a contribution to the discussion on colonialism and education. By forming a spectrum along which behaviours range from role differentiation to funding to global university rankings to the world-class image, this article gives a new meaning to global university rankings with which an institution is provided to uphold the Western hegemony without undermining the self-determination of the non-Western countries. In this regard, it leads us to rethink the winner-take-all competition in the global, post-colonial era through underlining the potential importance of global university rankings. While quality, excellence and world class have become the keywords in the present discussion, new keywords, like diversity and equality, are added into the future discussion of global university rankings.

I am grateful to Anthony Welch for his helpful and incisive comments on an earlier draft of this article. I express my sincere gratitude to Ian Holliday for his encouragement and support. I also thank the reviewers of Comparative Education for constructive criticism of the version


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originally submitted to the journal. Notwithstanding all these generous assistances, any errors and omissions are entirely my own.

1. The Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities is a ranking system

developed by the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan (HEEACT) reflecting universities performance in terms of their research output. 2. Different to the Jiao Tong ranking which is a nationally-supported project, The Times ranking is privately funded. National project here refers to its strong preference for the UK universities. 3. Marginson (2009) provides a two-sided analysis in which the Jiao Tong ranking, as he argues, shows an intention to build a new structure of university authority by using a nonbiased research-count method on the one hand; and reinstalls the old structure by reconfirming the privileged status of the American universities on the other.

Notes on contributor
William Lo is an instructor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He has worked as a researcher in Hong Kong and Britain. His main research interests include education policies and reforms in East Asia, and the impacts of globalisation on education. His recent research focuses on the implications of global university rankings for higher education.

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