Australia has a proud reputation when it comes to its academic prowess. Its universities and colleges maintain high standards of education and attract students from all over the world. But how do they compare internationally?
Every year various organisations release university ranking reports that list the best universities in the world. You might be able to guess the top five with reasonable accuracy, but what about all the others? How do Australian universities compare to schools in the US, Europe and Asia?
These lists are invaluable in helping students make the right decision when it comes to choosing a university or college, but they are also invaluable to the learning institutions themselves, as they get to see who is their biggest competition and whether their international reputation has improved or, horribly, slipped.
First let’s look at two of the university ranking lists that are most highly anticipated by learning institutions in Australia and around the world.
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QS World University Rankings
QS Stars is a rating system that evaluates international universities based on eight criteria:
- Research quality
- Teaching quality
- Graduate employability
- Innovation and knowledge transfer
- Third mission
- Specialist subject criteria
Universities are given a rating of one to five stars for each criterion and on their overall performance.
According to topuniversities.com, the rating is as follows:
- One star is awarded to universities that have the potential to improve their reputation nationally. They tend to be younger universities – less than 20 years old.
- Two stars are awarded to universities that have a good reputation nationally and are ready to start building their international reputations.
- Three stars are awarded to universities that have achieved some level of international acclaim.
- Four stars are awarded to universities that have good international reputations for their research, teaching and student environment.
- Five stars are awarded to universities that are, in a word, outstanding. They have well established, nigh unshakable reputations for research, teaching and student facilities. They’re the universities everyone would go to if geography, money and good marks weren’t an issue.
Times Higher Education World University Rankings
These rankings come to us courtesy of The Times, Thomson Reuters and international education experts. There are five broad criteria which include a total of 13 performance indicators. The criteria are:
- Industry income
- International outlook
In addition to these rather quantitative calculations, there is a university ranking list that relies on reputation only.
For brevity’s sake we’re not going to look at all the universities to make the lists. Instead, we’ll look at the top five, which usually include US and UK universities only, followed by the highest ranking ‘foreign’ schools and the highest ranking Australian schools. The phrasing alone should prepare you for the fact that Australian universities aren’t in the top 10.
QS World University Rankings 2011/12
In the QS Rankings, two UK and three US universities make up the top five.
1) University of Cambridge, UK, with five stars and a score of 100. Some people might have guessed that Oxford would pip Cambridge, but they it isn’t so. In fact, Oxford doesn’t even come second.
You have to go all the way down to number 17 to find a university that is not from the UK or US.
17) McGill University, Canada, ensures that the learning giants above don’t make a clean sweep of the top 20. The number of stars is also not represented but it gets a score of 89.56.
18) ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Switzerland, helps McGill break the monotony. The battle between McGill and ETH Zurich is a close one, as ETH scored 89.5.
22) University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, makes an impressive showing with a score of 87.04.
23) University of Toronto, Canada, scored 86.16.
25) The University of Tokyo, Japan, with a score of 85.9.
And now we reach the top performing universities in Australia. Would you care to guess who they are?
26) Australian National University, Australia, scored 85.69, so there is not much keeping it out of the top 25.
31) The University of Melbourne, Australia, scored 83.63, and also earned bragging rights over the University of Sydney.
38) The University of Sydney, Australia, scored 79.3. One imagines that the oldest university in Australia is smarting a bit at its placing.
48) The University of Queensland, Australia, scored 75.88.
49) The University of New South Wales, Australia, which shows its five stars and a score of 75.67.
(One must assume that there was something wrong with the website that it did not show stars for all of the universities in the top 50).
Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011/2012
This list strongly resembles the QS Rankings list, which is not surprising because we’d expect some uniformity from important lists such as this. It’s unlikely we’d believe either if there were massive discrepancies.
Still, there are some interesting differences, starting with number one.
1) California Institute of Technology, USA, with a score of 94.8. Where did that come from? Not Cambridge, not Harvard and not even MIT; CIT snagged the title from the most popular contenders.
2) Harvard University, USA, with a score of 93.9. The school is consistent, you have to give it that much.
3) Stanford University, USA, with a score of 93.9, so there really isn’t much to choose from at all between Stanford and Harvard, from the Times’ point of view.
4) University of Oxford, UK, with a score of 93.6. Finally, at number four the UK makes its presence felt. Pity it doesn’t manage to snag another place in the top five.
5) Princeton University, USA, with a score of 92.9. That’s four US universities in the top five – a rather impressive showing.
As with the QS list, we have to go quite some way to reach the first ‘foreign’ university.
15) ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Switzerland with a score of 85. At least it’s three places higher than on the QS list.
19) University of Toronto, Canada, with a score of 81.6. This is four places higher than its ranking on the QS list and allows it to best McGill University.
28) McGill University, Canada, with a score of 75.5; this is 11 places lower than its position on the QS list, which must be puzzling.
30) University of Tokyo, Japan, with a score of 74.3; another fairly large difference from its position on the QS rankings, and not a favourable one. At least it’s ahead of Hong Kong.
34) University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, with a score of 72.3.
Where are Australia’s universities, you ask, aren’t they among the best? And the answer: we’re getting there.
37) University of Melbourne, Australia, with a score of 71.9, once again pips its Sydney rival, as well as the top performing Australian university on the QS rankings, Australian National University.
38) Australian National University, Australia, with a score of 71.2, is hot on the heels of its Melbourne compatriot.
58) University of Sydney, Australia, with a score of 62.4 doesn’t even feature in the top 50 universities on the Times ratings list, which must be an even greater disappointment than its position in the QS rankings.
For interest sake, let’s also take a look at the Times’ reputation list – you’ll be surprised.
Top Universities by Reputation 2012
1) Harvard University with a score of 100
2) MIT with a score of 87.2
3) University of Cambridge with a score of 80.7
4) Stanford University with a score of 72.1
5) University of California Berkeley with a score of 71.6
This time round, a ‘foreign’ university makes it into the top 10
8) University of Tokyo with a score of 35.6. Notice the big drop in scores between number five and number eight.
16) University of Toronto with a score of 20
22) ETH Zurich with a score of 15
25) McGill University with a score of 11.8
And the best universities in Australia by reputation are:
43) University of Melbourne with a score of 8.1
44) Australian National University with a score of 7.4
50) University of Sydney with a score of 6.9 – just squeaking in the top 50
Just one more list?
There are, of course, other lists that are published, but one that is perhaps of more relevance to Australian universities than most is the Top 100 Universities and Colleges in Oceania, which is created by 4ic.org University Web Ranking.
Australia owns the top five places – no scores or stars available.
1) The University of New South Wales, Australia
2) Australian National University, Australia
3) Monash University, Australia
4) The University of Sydney, Australia
5) The University of Melbourne, Australia
That Sydney once again failed to claim top Australian honours must grate mightily, but at least it beat Melbourne this time round.
All in all, Australia’s universities didn’t do badly, especially considering the incredible dominance of the US and UK. The lists, all of them, show that the standard of education among Australian universities is pretty close, with not much separating the top three.
Given the strong focus on educational reform and the rising standards of online university courses, we can (and should) expect to see more universities in Australia make the QS and Times ranking lists in the future.