Australian universities judged among world's best

There is a lot of arbitrariness in these rankings but it is encouraging that Australian universities do well in several ranking systems. From what I have seen of overseas universities,I myself think Australia's "sandstone" universities are as good as any -- but I hold degrees from two of them so maybe I am a bit biased. I am pleased to see that where my son is currently studying did very well in the rankings. He himself is pleased with his programme there

FIVE Australian universities have been rated among the world's top 50 but the latest global university rankings show dramatic falls by institutions outside the Group of Eight, prompting concerns over the methodology of the list.

Eight Australian institutions made it into the top 100 - 23 are in the top 500 - in the QS World University Rankings, released today.

The outstanding result has been welcomed by sector leaders, despite the big slumps among universities outside the Go8.

Top of the local league was the Australian National University, ranked 26 in the world, followed by the University of Melbourne at 31. The world league was led by the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University and the University of Oxford.

Australia's worst fall was registered by Flinders University, down 48 rankings to 299 globally. The University of Newcastle fell by 35, La Trobe University by 31 and Griffith University and the University of Tasmania by 23.

They were in a group of 13 whose rankings dropped, while nine institutions improved over past year.

The University of South Australia was up 25, Queensland University of Technology was up 22 and Curtin University and the University of Western Australia were both up 16.

Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said: "To have something like 60 per cent of Australian universities in the top 500 shows the strength of our system by world standards, given there are some 16,000 institutions. (But) we need to maintain that strength.

"We are looking for the base funding review and the way the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency are going to operate to help us maintain that strength in the system."

Griffith University's deputy director, research policy, and QS board member Tony Sheil, said the rankings were "capturing more up-and-coming universities, especially from the fast-growing economies like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea".

This was in contrast to one of its rivals, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, previously known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong, whose methodology is heavily weighted towards research performance and tends to favour older universities.

"The good news for Australia is that it performs very well on both rankings - our universities conform to what some call the global university model," Mr Sheil said.

"(However) QS does need to have a closer look at the data accuracy contained in several indicators."

He said it was not credible that several middle-ranked Australian universities outdid the California Institute of Technology for employer reputation.

The QS methodology allocates a 40 per cent weighting for academic reputation, gauged via a worldwide questionnaire, 10 per cent for reputation among employers, 20 per cent for student-to-staff ratio, 20 for citations per academic staff member, and 5 per cent each for international staff and international students.

The area of traditional weakness for Australia in the QS rankings is student-to-staff ratios. "Once again, it's disappointing to see Australia falling behind in some of the student-to-staff ratios," executive director of the leading Group of Eight universities, Michael Gallagher said.

QS singled Melbourne out for comment. "In whichever evaluations you refer to in recent times, the QS World University Rankings by Subject, The Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, or the Shanghai rankings, Melbourne keeps getting stronger," QS vice-president John Molony said.

Mr Gallagher agreed that while "there are different perspectives and flaws in all rankings systems, the consistent message is that they reinforce different groupings, especially the top tier".

The field of global rankings for universities is intensely competitive. QS claims to be the most extensive of its kind, evaluating more than 700 universities.


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