What it is and how it works

The Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities, released on 25 August, is designed to compare and evaluate research universities’ achievements in scientific research through objective indicators. The ranking includes results for the world’s top 800 universities, of which 26 are from Australia.

This ranking was first published in 2007 by the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan (HEEACT). It is also known as the NTU Rankings, as it is published by the National University of Taiwan.

The ranking comprises eight indicators using data drawn from Clarivate’s Essential Science Indicators (ESI). These indicators are split into three categories:

* research productivity with two measures (articles published in the last 11 years, i.e. 2010-2020 and articles published in the current year, i.e., 2020) account for 25 per cent of the overall score.

* research impact with three measures (number of citations in the last 11 years i.e., 2010-2020, number of citations in the last two years (i.e., 2019-2020) and average number of citations in the last 11 years, i.e., 2010-2020. This category accounts for 35 per cent of the overall score.

* research excellence with three measures, accounting for 40 per cent of the overall score. These measures are: H-index of the last two years, i.e., 2019-2020, number of highly cited papers for the period 2010 to 2020 and number of articles in the 2019-2020 period.

Performance of Australian universities

Let’s say that the performance of our universities remained on course with what we reviewed this year, considering that the result for this ranking now includes publications up to 2020.

Although there are signs of weakening or insufficient progress realised in some measures for some universities, it may be too premature to say so.

The performance of our universities cannot be judged without considering the performance of universities elsewhere. There is a downward trend for universities from mature and high-income economies. In turn, we see a rightward shift in performance for universities in Asia, which reflect the significant investment made in higher education and research in recent decades.

Four Australian universities are ranked in the world’s top 50: Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, and Monash. UNSW is fifth in Australia ranked at 51st. Western Australia, Adelaide, and ANU are ranked in the 101-200 range.

Another five institutions are ranked in the 201-300 range: Curtin, UTS, QUT, Griffith and Wollongong.

Five more institutions are ranked in the 301-400 range: Deakin, Newcastle, Macquarie, Tasmania and Swinburne.

Another six universities are ranked in the 401-500 Band:  RMIT, James Cook, Western Sydney, La Trobe, UniSA, and Flinders.

The standing of our universities is relatively consistent with what we observe across various other ranking schemas.

Of the eight universities ranked in the top 200, five went down (between one and nine places); two remained unchanged in rank; and one went up by one position. The upward movement of Australian universities mainly occurred in those ranked in the 201 to 500 ranges. The most notable were QUT, moving up 49 positions to 283rd; Macquarie, up by 37 positions to 330; and RMIT, up by 29 positions to 402nd.

NTU ranking in context

This is a ranking which is relatively stable and does not suffer from the volatility that we see in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (CMM, 16 August) due to the highly cited researchers, or the variability of scores in Times Higher Education World University Rankings, because of its citation impact measure (CMM, 12 August). As this ranking does not measure an institution’s reputation, it is strictly objective.

This ranking is a precursor to what we may see in bibliometric based indicators like the US News Best Global Universities (due for release late in October) and next year’s CWTS Leiden Ranking. For those keen to know what lies ahead in the world of global rankings, I encourage them to examine the results from this ranking.

This ranking is a useful tool for benchmarking, as it helps to identify which institutions are rising and which one are trending downwards in either productivity or quality. This is thanks to the measures in use and the time period covered by such measures.

NTU Rankings also contain rankings for 27 subject areas spread across six fields, categorised in regard to the ESI research fields. These results provide another lens by which the performance of our universities can be assessed at subject level. These field and subject results can also be cross referenced against the ShanghaiRankings’s Global Rankings of Academic Subjects which also makes use of Clarivate’s databases (CMM, 27 May).

Results from the subject rankings can also be used by the marketing and communications teams to boost our morale for these fragile times of uncertainty and various restrictions enforced by lockdowns. We can see how our institution ranks in every field and subject area and how far we have progressed since this ranking started. Subject rankings always contain many pleasant surprises.

Angel Calderon is principal advisor, planning and research at RMIT



to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education