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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Asia's science and technology institutes mix students and success


1. Pohang University of Science and Technology

2. Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

3. Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

4. Nanyang Technological University

5. Science University of Tokyo

Back to Main Story

The Top 10

Universitas 21: Building a Global University

The Best Schools in Asia: The Rankings

AMAZING WHAT A DETERMINED nation can do. Soon after Independence 50 years ago, India realized the need to develop its technological capabilities. The Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, was founded in 1951. Subsequently five other sister universities were established in different places; the latest one, IIT Guwahati in Assam state, is still in the project stage. Today, the various IITs are among the world's most prestigious science and technology schools. In Asiaweek's first-ever ranking of specialized institutes, IIT Delhi and IIT Madras are ranked second and third, respectively, with IIT Bombay No. 6. IIT Kharagpur and IIT Kanpur did not return the questionnaire.

Topping the new list is South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology or Postech. It too is a product of single-mindedness - this time of Pohang Iron and Steel. The world's second-largest steel maker founded the university in 1986 in part to educate engineers for its operations. What about Postech's rival, the government-backed Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology? Sadly, KAIST failed to complete the questionnaire. "Our educational and operational systems are so unique and different from other universities that they can hardly be represented in your questionnaire format," wrote Kyungho Ko of the International Relations Office.

KAIST still made it to the top 30 list on the strength of its academic reputation. Asked to rate each other on a scale of one to five, the nominated universities gave KAIST an average grade of 3.8 points. The last five schools in the listing on (see Rankings) did not answer the questionnaire, but were rated highly enough by their peers to earn a slot in the ranking. Perhaps this will encourage KAIST and the others to be more forthcoming next year. For 1998, here are the profiles of Asia's top five science and technology universities:

1. POHANG UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Established: 1986 Address: San 31 Hyoja Dong Nam-gu, Pohang 790-784 Phone: 82-562-279-2005 Fax: 82-562-279-2020 Website: www.postech.ac.kr Est. annual living and tuition expenses, foreign students: 12.4 million won ($9,000)

The Korean steel town of Pohang has proven a fertile incubator for developing one of Asia's top research centers: Pohang University of Science and Technology, known as Postech.

Established just 12 years ago, Postech is tiny with just 2,531 students. Those best-and-brightest who are accepted by the private institution, located 338 kilometers southeast of Seoul, gain access to a robust educational system. Postech rates best in the country in terms of educational facilities, financial strength and management. Though research still lags other schools, that is largely attributed to Postech's short history. The teacher-student ratio is impressive. There are just six students for every professor. How good are the facilities? Just one example is the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory, which sports Korea's first particle accelerator, used for atomic research.

Postech's pedigree is linked directly to the world's second-largest steel producer, Pohang Iron and Steel. In the early 1980s, the company's need for highly-trained engineers could no longer be met by hiring foreign-trained workers. The solution was to build the country's first private research-oriented institution. Park Tae Joon, founder of the steelworks and now president of the ruling United Liberal Party, was instrumental in the founding of Postech. And the priorities of the university's original backers remain resonant in the curriculum. The Graduate School of Iron and Steel Technology provides students with a rare specialty. The university is also noted for its strong research in materials science and mechanical engineering, reflecting gritty steel-town roots.

Other disciplines, particularly in life sciences and environmental engineering, are receiving support - and achieving results. Two Postech professors recently discovered a gene that contributes to breast cancer. Groundbreaking research using lasers instead of electricity for computing is being conducted through government and corporate grants.

The student body is overwhelmingly Korean; students can receive financial aid packages five times larger than what the average Korean student receives.

- By Laxmi Nakarmi

2. INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, DELHI

Established: 1961 Address: Hauz Khas, New Delhi, 110-016 Phone: 91-11-686-2153 Fax: 91-11-686-2037 Website: www.iitd.ernet.in Est. annual living and tuition expenses, foreign students: 245,000 rupees ($6,400)

Two of the biggest corporate contributors to the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, are Western computer industry giants IBM and Microsoft. In the past, an institution so proudly Indian might have eschewed such corporate involvement. But school officials are keen to reduce their heavy dependence on government funding. "The fact of the matter is that we are now able to make some financial decisions ourselves," says Professor V.S. Raju, the school's director. "The government is allowing us to do that."

Foreign corporations are eager to participate, in part due to India's reputation as a source of inexpensive computer programming talent. IBM intends to invest $25 million over the next five years to establish a research center on the campus, and will kick in an additional $10 million in grant money. Microsoft is endowing a $250,000 software professorship, the first such academic post the software company has funded outside the U.S. Domestic Indian companies such as the engineering firm Larsen & Toubro have also contributed. "In our endeavor to keep up our standard of research and training, we have dramatically changed our funding pattern,'' Raju says. "You could say that IIT is adjusting to the post-liberalization era."

What hasn't changed are rigorous academic standards. Indian students compete fiercely for scarce places. Last year, a million young people sought admission to the entire IIT system, studying for two years just to prepare for the brutal entrance exam. Fewer than one out of a hundred are admitted - and only a handful are women. Nevertheless, those women who make the cut don't complain about a lack of dimension to their lives. "Though I have opted for chemical engineering, experiences in the first year at IIT are of a general, rich, and varied nature," says 19-year-old Pragya Singh.

Certainly the environs are as restful as the coursework is rigorous. The tree-lined Delhi campus sprawls over 130 hectares in the chic Hauz Khas neighborhood. The grounds are dotted with multi-story residential blocks and academic centers. Students also will soon enjoy a state-of-the-art, fiber-optic communications network, providing fast Internet access to the entire campus.

- By Ritu Sarin

3. INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, MADRAS

Established: 1961 Address: Madras 600-036 Phone: 91-44-235-1365 Fax: 91-44-235-0509 Website: www.iitm.ernet.in Est. annual living and tuition expenses, foreign students: 254,000 rupees ($6,400)

Pity the brainy young academics entering IIT Madras. Many of them need counseling in their first few semesters to help them accept that, in their new home, they may no longer be the smart kid on the block. The average Madras student scored a near-perfect 98% on his grade 12 exam. "All the entrants are at the top of their classes in secondary school," says M.S. Ananth, Dean of Academic Studies. "When they come here they find somebody has to be at the bottom."

In fact, you really do have to be a rocket scientist to attend some classes. Madras houses a top-flight aerospace department; the Indian Space Research Organization, which has successfully launched several satellites and participated in India's missile program, has a special unit at the campus. Madras is also closely tied to the country's most important nuclear research organization, the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research.

With government grants declining, administrators have increasingly turned to the private sector for funding. Last year industry-sponsored research projects totaled some $2 million. This year, Ford Motor Co. endowed a chair at Madras to study auto technology, safety and the environment. The ties between academia and industry are strong in other ways. Many graduates go on to noteworthy business careers. Four of India's biggest companies involved in advanced research, including software developer Infosys and Hindustan Aeronautics, have Madras alumni at the helm.

Graduates have fond memories of the wooded, 250-hectare campus, which was carved out of a nature preserve "away from the hustle and bustle of the marketplace," says Ashok Khanna, a Madras grad who is now managing director of a large Indian power equipment company. It's not exactly rustic. There are shopping centers, a hospital, sports facilities, a post office and community centers. Khanna calls it "the ideal academic environment." It may be, as long as you can cope with not being the brightest student on campus.

- By Arjuna Ranawana

4. NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY

Established: 1981 Address: Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798 Phone: 65-791-1744 Fax: 65-791-1604 Website: www.ntu.edu.sg Est. annual living and tuition expenses, foreign students: S$17,725 ($11,050)

The troubled regional economy has worked in favor of Nanyang Technological University. One of the Singapore institution's toughest challenges is recruiting the best students and faculty away from more prestigious universities worldwide. These days, sharp students once bound for education overseas are finding that option too expensive due to regional currency devaluations. In droves, they are calling Nanyang home.

The trend should help the institution, which opened in 1981 as a business and industry training ground. Seven years ago, Nanyang began to cultivate niche areas of research in emerging fields such as microelectronics and biomedical engineering. "In these areas, we are all beginners,'' says S.M. Krishnan, director of the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre. "So we can compete better, and have a better impact.''

In target areas such as microprocessor research and advanced manufacturing processes, Nanyang can point to success. In 1992 the university garnered a coveted award from the U.S.-based Society of Manufacturing Engineers, becoming only the second non-U.S. school to win. Three years later, an NTU research team won the Texas Instruments Digital Signal Processing Solutions contest, besting 320 teams from 26 countries.

- By Andrea Hamilton

5. SCIENCE UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO

Established: 1881 Address: 1-3 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162 Phone: 81-3-3260-4271 Fax: 81-3-3260-4294 Website: www.sut.ac.jp Est. annual living and tu-ition expenses, foreign students: 2.6 million yen ($19,779)

Basic science is one of Science University of Tokyo's strong points. Many observers rank its research in this field among the best in Japan. The university has eight departments for undergraduates and seven graduate schools - all with well-equipped laboratories. Cutting-edge areas include mathematics and chemistry. In the 1960s, the university added faculties in pharmacy and engineering. A venerable school of business management has been turning out corporate executives since 1933.

The SUT figures among the top 10 Japanese universities in placing graduates in much-coveted civil service posts. Many find employment with major Japanese manufacturing companies. Meanwhile, about a third choose to stay at the university to continue their research - an unusually high proportion for a private university and an indication of the dedication of SUT grads. Research is often conducted jointly with private companies in seven leading fields, including remote sensing and artificial intelligence.

Six campuses offer undergraduate and professional courses. Three are in central Tokyo, one each in Chiba and Saitama prefectures, and one is on northern Hokkaido. Enrollment is over 20,000 students and the curriculum so rigorous that many fail their term exams and have to repeat them. But there's time for recreation. Many students spend entire days playing mahjong.

In contrast to the environment in most Japanese schools, the SUT has a reputation for encouraging free thinking and creativity. "It is tough at the beginning," recalls Sugimoto Hideaki, an SUT alumnus who majored in math and is currently working as a systems engineer with Hitachi. "But you soon find it so challenging and such great fun that you cannot stop."

- By Murakami Mutsuko


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