Australian universities have once again performed well in the Shanghai Rankings’ Global Ranking of Academic Subjects (GRAS). This is the fifth edition of the expanded ranking, which now covers 54 subject areas and is based on bibliometric data from Clarivate’s Web of Science.

Out of the 36 Australian universities included in the rankings, 29 have at least one subject area in the world’s top 100.  Overall, there are 876 instances in which Australian universities are listed. 35.5 per cent are ranked in the world’s top 100, compared to 34.1 per cent  in 2020 and 34.9 per cent in 2019.  This is a positive trend for Australian universities given the intense global competition that we see, particularly in the research space.

Whilst there is not an Australian university which tops in any of the subject rankings,  are greater proportion are included in the higher bands (e.g. top 100) and fewer in the lower bands (e.g., top 500 there or 401-500).

Number of times listed

There are 16 Australian universities which are listed more than 25 instances in the subject rankings. UNSW has the highest number of listings across 52 subjects and is followed by Uni Melbourne (50) and Uni Queensland (49). It is not surprising that all Go8 universities are listed the most frequently.

They are followed by a group including QUT, UTS, Curtin U , Griffith U, RMIT, DeakinU,  Uni Wollongong, and Uni Newcastle.

Year after year these universities have continued to cement their overall presence across all subject areas.


Whilst UNSW has the highest proportion of its subject listings in the top 50 with 36.5 per cent, followed by the Uni Queensland with 30.6 per cent, Uni Melbourne has the highest proportion of its listings in the top 100 (i.e. band range from 1-100). 76 per cent of Melbourne’s listings are ranked in the top 100.

Seven Go8 institutions, as well as UTS, have the highest proportion of their listings at above the national average (35.5 per cent). UWA (35.0 per cent) and Uni Tasmania (33.3 per cent) are within relative proximity to the national average.

Having the most listings and being ranked in the top 50 or top 100 are not necessarily the things that matter the most in this ranking. This is because not all institutions focus their research endeavours on the subject areas which are included in this ranking.

Subject spread across fields

This is a ranking which provides comprehensive coverage of engineering with 22 subject listings. Out of the remaining 54 academic subjects, 14 are from the social sciences, eight are from the natural sciences, six are from the medical sciences, and four are from the life sciences. It is not unusual that an institution is listed in a given subject area and yet it offers no degree programmes. This is a ranking that is focused on the subject areas in which researchers undertake and have scholarly output.

This is not a ranking designed to appeal to students but is rather focused on fostering research and institutional collaboration, academic mobility across institutions and possibly enter into agreements based on research affinity. It may have some appeal to students who are considering doctorate education in a particular field or niche area of research. The subject ranking which has greater appeal to students is the one produced by QS and released every year in March since 2011.

Australia stands out in engineering

Given the number of subject areas under the field of engineering, it is not surprising that a significant proportion of the subject areas in which Australian universities stand out are in it.

Out of the 876 instances across all subject areas for Australian universities, 310 are in engineering, followed by 239 times in the social sciences, 135 times in the natural sciences, 111 in medical sciences and 81 in life sciences.

Of the 310 instances in which Australian universities are ranked in engineering, 45.2 per cent are among the world’s top 100, followed by medical sciences with 37.8 per cent, 29.6 per cent for both life sciences and natural sciences and the social sciences with 27.2 per cent.

Readers need to be aware that Australian universities appear to do less in the various engineering subject rankings from QS, which is constructed using data from reputation surveys in addition to bibliometric data from Elsevier’s Scopus.

Methodological construct

The methodological construct of this is entirely dependent on objective measures. Four of these are drawn from Clarivate’s bibliometric databases:

The first indicator (Q1) is the number of papers published by an institution which are in journals with Q1 Journal Impact Factor Quartile during the five-year period between 2015 and 2019.

The second indicator (CNCI) refers to the ratio of citations of papers published to the average citations of papers published in the same category during the period between 2015 and 2019.

The third indicator refers to the ratio of publications which have been found to be the result of at least two authors from different countries during the period between 2015 and 2019.

The fourth indicator refers to the number of papers published in top journals in an academic subject for an institution between 2015 and 2019.

The last indicator is based on the number of staff of an institution winning a significant award in an academic subject. In the 2020 edition, there were only 21 instances in which an Australian institution received a score on this indicator.

Next year’s edition of this ranking is likely to show the first impacts of the pandemic year of 2020. As noted above, the data used for this ranking precedes the five year prior to 2020. As I observed in CMM earlier this week, we may be one to two years away from seeing an impact of these in the global rankings, including subject rankings.

Angel Calderon is principal advisor, planning and research at RMIT


Total number of times and band distribution Australian universities listed in ShanghaiRankings’ 2021 Global Rankings of Academic Subjects by faculty
Faculty Total number of times listed Band distribution
Top 100 Top 200 Top 300 Top 400 Top 500
Engineering 310 45.2% 28.4% 16.8% 7.1% 2.6%
Life Sciences 81 29.6% 8.6% 24.7% 17.3% 19.8%
Medical Sciences 111 37.8% 23.4% 21.6% 10.8% 6.3%
Natural Sciences 135 29.6% 31.9% 19.3% 11.1% 8.1%
Social Sciences 239 27.2% 38.9% 22.2% 9.6% 2.1%
Total 2021 876 35.5% 29.3% 20.0% 9.8% 5.4%
Total 2020 34.1% 29.1% 19.6% 11.1% 6.1%
Total 2019 34.9% 29.7% 19.8% 9.2% 6.4%
Source: ShanghaiRankings
Table compiled by AJ Calderon using 2021 data available online and previous years data extracted at the time of release.




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