by ANGEL CALDERON
Australian universities have once again performed well in the QS World University Rankings (WUR) 2022 edition, which was released on 8 June. Of the 26 universities ranked in the top 500, 16 moved up in position, eight moved down in position, and two remained unchanged compared to last year’s edition. Clearly, Australian universities continue to shine on the global stage.
There are now 39 Australian universities included in the ranking, with the inclusion of the University of Notre Dame, compared to 38 last year. Australia is ninth in the number of universities included in the ranking.
The total number of institutions in QS has increased by 10 per cent, from 1,186 last year to 1,300 across 97 countries. This edition is the biggest QS has ever produced.
Top performing countries
The United States and the United Kingdom continue to outperform all other countries in the overall number of institutions from their national systems included in the ranking (177 and 90, respectively). However, Australia outperforms both in the proportion of universities ranked in the world’s top 200 and even 300.
34.2 per cent of the ranked Australian universities are in the world’s top 200, compared to 25.4 per cent for the United States, and 28.9 per cent for the United Kingdom. Of the countries which have more than ten universities ranked in QS WUR 2022, only the Netherlands and Switzerland outperform Australia in the proportion of universities ranked in the world’s top 200.
Australia is fourth behind the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada in the proportion of ranked universities in the world’s top 300.
Australia is third behind the Netherlands and Switzerland in the proportion of ranked universities in the world top 500. Australia is also third behind the United Kingdom and Switzerland in the proportion of ranked universities in the world top 100.
To provide context to the overall performance of Australia compared to other national systems, Table 1 below provides the number of ranked institutions for selected countries, including the proportion ranked in the world’s top 100, top 200, top 300, and top 500.
New Zealand’s eight universities are all ranked among the world’s top 500. Five are included in the world’s top 300.
|Table 1: Number of universities ranked in QS World University Rankings 2022 and distribution in the world’s top 500 for selected countries|
|Country*||Total||Top 100||Top 200||Top 300||Top 500|
|Notes: * Countries from the United States to India are first to tenth in the number of ranked universities.
Source: QS World University Rankings 2022.
Australian top performers
ANU remains Australia’s highest ranked university at 27th, followed by Uni Melbourne at 37th, and Uni Sydney at 38th. All other Group of Eight universities ran fourth to eighth.
UTS ranked 133rd and Curtin University ranked 194th are Australian ninth and tenth highest ranked universities. Curtin was outside the world’s top 200 last year.
Uni Wollongong and Uni Newcastle, which broke into the world’s top 200 last year retain their top standing.
Macquarie U which ranked 214th last year is now ranked 200.
There are now 13 Australian universities which rank in the top 200, compared to nine last year or eight in 2015.
RMIT University now ranks 206th and QUT ranks 213th. Both are now within striking distance of being in the world’s top 200.
Over the period between 2015 and this year’s edition, Australian universities have made significant progress in QS WUR. Table 2 provides details for those universities which are ranked in the world’s top 500.
Improvement driven by citations
Once again, the improvement of Australian universities rests primarily on higher citations per-faculty scores. 24 out of the 26 universities which rank in the top 500 moved up in citation scores from last year to this year.
The average rate of improvement for Australian universities which rank in the world’s top 500 was 12.2 points from last year to this year, compared to 6.2 points globally.
To put it another way, there are now 17 Australian universities which rank in the world’s top 200 on this indicator, compared to 14 last year or eight in the 2015 edition.
Citations per faculty accounts for 20 per cent of the overall score.
Not everything is upwards
The downside is that Australian universities continue to perform poorly on the student to faculty ratio, which accounts for 20 per cent of the overall score.
The performance for Australian universities ranked in the world’s top 500 decreased 0.8 points on average this year compared to last. Eight institutions saw an improvement in score while one remained unchanged, and the rest saw a decline in score on this measure.
There is no Australian university which feature in the world’s top 200 on the student to faculty ratio. The two highest performer universities rank in the 401-500 band, one in the 401-500 band and the remaining 35 universities are outside the top 500.
The latest figures published by the Australian Department of Education indicate that the student to academic staff (including casual) ratio was 21:9 for Australian universities in 2019, compared to 20:10 in 2009. Ratios have fluctuated in the intervening years. It is worth noting though that the student to academic staff ratio stood at 14:3 in 1992 at a time when the Australian higher education system was expanding. Figures used by QS are likely to be higher than those published by the Department of Education.
Continued weakening in academic reputation
Over recent years Australian universities have faced significant challenges in improving scores in the academic reputation survey (which accounts for 40 per cent of the overall score). Globally, universities are paying more attention to the value of reputation and how reputation surveys (rightly or wrongly) contribute to shape perception of the overall standing of an institution.
Last year (CMM September 2 2020) we observed when QS released the 2021 results a small but noticeable decrease in the reputation surveys. This year again, Australian universities experienced another decline in performance in the academic reputation survey.
The annual average decline in score was 0.9 points for those universities which rank in the world’s top 500. Despite this decrease, there are 10 Australian universities which rank in the top 200 on this indicator and another six in the top 300.
A small but noticeable uplift in employer reputation
Australian universities have also had mixed results in the employer reputation survey which accounts for 10% of the overall score. This year, Australian universities (ranked in the top 500) on average had an improvement of 0.4 points.
We see that 15 out of the 26 universities which rank in the world’s top 500 had improved scores, one remained unchanged, and ten experienced a decline. There are 11 Australian universities which rank in the world’s top 200 on this indicator, which is one more than last year.
Remaining solidly strong on international measures
In the two measures of internationalisation Australian universities continue to shine. In the proportion of international students, 17 Australian universities rank in the world’s top 100 and another nine rank in the 101-200 band, compared to 16 in the top 100 and nine in the top 200 last year. The two measures of internationalisation each account for 5 per cent of the overall score.
It is probable that Australian universities may experience a dent in performance next year on the proportion of international students. It is less likely there will be a significant decrease in performance in international faculty.
It is also probable that Australian universities improvement on QS will continue to rely on higher citations per faculty scores.
Australian universities are likely to weather off any significant decline in overall standing in global rankings next years. What we have observed is that Australia’s annual scholarly output production increased above the world average (6.4 per cent compared to 4.4 per cent) between 2019 and 2020 but increased below the world average in the preceding years.
What lies beyond 2022 for Australian universities is less clear but it is unlikely that they will experience a significant downfall in overall performance, even though global rankings rely considerably on research metrics.
Angel Calderon is principal advisor, planning and research at RMIT
|Table 2: Standing of Australian universities in QS World University Rankings, Top 500 in 2022 and rank in 2015|
|Institution||2015||2022||Change 2015 – 2022|
|Western Sydney||651-700||494||> 157|