Rankings show ‘steady as she goes’ for Australian universities

Five Australian universities made Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s top 100 list. Flickr/jkim.ca

The University of Melbourne has once again improved its position and remains Australia’s best university according to new university rankings released today.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University has five Australian universities in the top 100, including University of Melbourne (54), the Australian National University (66), University of Queensland (85), University of Western Australia (91) and University of Sydney (97).

Most Australian universities in the top 100 improved their position from last year’s ranking, except ANU which dropped two places (down from 64) and Sydney University which dropped four places (down from 93).

American universities continued to dominate the rankings with Harvard University retaining the coveted top place, along with seven other prestigious US institutions in the top ten. UK universities Cambridge and Oxford also retain their positions at number five and number ten respectively.

In total, 19 Australian universities feature in the top 500 (the same number as last year).

The rankings are based on universities’ research contribution calculated through indicators such as the rate of research citations and the number of Nobel Prize winners at each institution.

Ed Byrne, Vice-Chancellor of Monash University, which placed in the top 150, said the results for Australia looked much the same as last year. “As a country of our size we continue to do very credibly. As I looked at it, the top six or seven institutions seemed to be pretty much where they were or had gone up a few places,” he said.

“We have a lot of very credible institutions… in the top 500, a lot in the top 200, we have a number in the top 100 but really, when you get to the top 50, we’re pretty sparse… It’s pretty hard for an Australian institution to push into the top 20 or so with the funding pools we have available in this country.”

But the Vice-Chancellor warned that our rate of improvement could be “flattening out”.

“With the current constraints on university investment and reductions in federal government funding, it’s going to be difficult to improve much further over the next few years,” he said.

Higher Education Policy Adviser at University of Melbourne Gwilym Croucher said Australia’s performance was strong but “we don’t have an institution in the top 50 yet while a number of comparable systems do, like Canada for example”.

“There is also increasingly strong competition from Asia and that’s reflected in this year’s rankings,” he said.

But these rankings were a narrow measure of research and don’t always give us the full picture on the quality of teaching. “There would be many institutions with excellent teaching that don’t get a show in these rankings because their focus is on teaching not on research,” he said.

Matthew Bailes, Pro-Vice Chancellor of research at Swinburne University, which made it into the top 301-400 category, said there was a stark difference in attitudes between Australia and the top ranking United States.

“When you live in America you notice on all the TV shows, the kids talk about Harvard University. All the brightest nerds want to go to those sort of institutions,” he said.

“We don’t have that in Australia, people who want to go to Melbourne or ANU or whatever, they don’t dream of that in the same way that Americans dream of being the next MIT entrepreneur or so on.”