A ranking to rely on: Universitas 21 picks the worldbeaters

Universitas 21 has  released its annual ranking of national higher education systems which puts the US in top spot, with European countries and the UK in the next six spots. Canada is eighth, Singapore is ninth and Australia tenth.

The ranking is based on an evaluation of national systems on 24 attributes by Ross Williams and Anne Leahy from UniMelbourne’s Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. While the ranking results are somewhat similar to those used by the commercial providers, Williams and Leahy build theirs on detailed analyses of variables, which they explain in detail.

Overall rankings are:

Resources (20 per cent of weighting): “A necessary condition for a well-performing higher education system is that it is adequately resourced, whether by government or the private sector.” The world’s first five are, Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Denmark and Canada. The US is sixth and Australia is 14th, behind Hong Kong and ahead of Belgium.

Environment (20 per cent). “For a quality higher education system, institutions need considerable financial autonomy, but there also needs to be appropriate diversity, competition between institutions and external monitoring of performance. The US leads from Australia in second place and New Zealand in third, followed by Singapore and Finland.

Connectivity (20 per cent): “The worth of a national higher education system is enhanced if it is well connected with the rest of the nation’s society and is linked internationally in education and research.” The top five are European countries and the UK, with New Zealand sixth. The US is 11th and Australia 14th.

Output: (40 per cent): This covers, research output and its impact, “student throughput,” the graduates and researchers in the country, quality of best universities, and graduate employability. The first five are the US, UK, Australia, Switzerland and Denmark.

Overall this year’s order is largely unchanged from 2017, as the authors explain, “systems evolve slowly over time.”  However, what is lost on some swings may not always be made up on the roundabouts. The authors report Australia’s 14th place for resources is due in part to rating 41st in the world for government expenditure, “although the official data do not reflect the full cost of the student loan scheme.”  But total public and private expenditure rates Australia 8th for spending as a share of GDP, up from 17th the previous year, as enrolments expanded. Guess which stat will get quoted in the next funding debate.

Ratings agency QS has also released its national system rankings, which comes up with a broadly similar result albeit on a less complex inputs. The US is the worldwide number one, followed by the UK, Australia, Germany, Canada, France and the Netherlands.  China, South Korea and Japan are in eighth, ninth and tenth places.


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