In the coming days, we will know the results from the 2021 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), published by ShanghaiRankings. In the 2020 edition there were 23 Australian universities ranked among the world’s top 500 (CMM 17 August 2020). This release will include indexed articles published during the pandemic year of 2020.

Then, in early September, Times Higher Education (THE) will release its 2022 edition of its World University Rankings (WUR). Last year we saw 26 Australian universities improved (CMM 2 September 2020).

THE rankings will also include indexed publications between 2016 and 2020. In addition, it will contain results from the reputation survey carried out late last year and early this year, which examines the perceived prestige of institutions in research and teaching.

It will be interesting to see what movement is observed in both rankings among our institutions but also across countries. Let’s take a dive into some of the dimensions of these rankings, starting with ARWU.

Highly cited researchers

The number of Highly Cited researchers (HiCis) in Australian universities increased from 227 in 2018 to 244 in 2019. In 2020, at least five universities went on a recruiting spree and recruited 26 of the 31 Australia gained. Overall, Australian universities had 275 HiCis, with another 30 working in entities like the CSIRO and the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute.

In 2020, Australia had the fifth highest number of HiCis, behind the United States, China, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Interestingly, 30 thirty Australian universities had at least one HiCis. Of these, 16 universities had between five and thirty HiCis.

The list of Highly Cited researchers is compiled by Clarivate Analytics and uses the Web of Science. The list refers to those who are in the world’s top 1 per cent of researchers based on citations over a ten-year period.

Nature and Science journals

Over the period 2016-2020, Australia was ninth globally in the number of articles published in Nature, and tenth in the number of articles published in Science.

Based on the data available via InCites, Australian researchers continued to increase their co-authorship collaboration in both journals, which accounts for 20 per cent of the overall score.

23 Australian universities are listed with having ten or more articles published in these journals between 2016-2020. All these universities were ranked in the world’s top 500 last year.

Keep in mind that the order in which coauthors are listed matters in determining the score for an institution on this dimension. Corresponding authors are given a higher weight than first or subsequent authors.

Publications (indexed articles)

The number of articles indexed in Clarivate’s Incites for Australian universities increased by 5.9 per cent from 95,480 in 2019, to 101,072 in 2020. There were 24 Australian universities which increased above the national average, ten of which saw an increase of more than 10 per cent year on year. There were 15 universities which were below the national average, of which eight saw a decline in the total number of articles published.

Publications count for 20 per cent of the overall score. It is also useful to keep in mind that a weight of two is given to papers indexed in the Social Sciences Citation Index compared to those indexed in the Science Citation Index. What we can see in the data is that there are some Australian universities which had a higher annual growth rate in Science related papers than those from the Social Sciences.

Australia is eleventh globally in the number of articles indexed in InCites. This is a position which Australia has maintained over the past five years. Over the past two years, China has published the highest number of articles, followed by the United States.

Among the top ten countries, the highest increase in articles was by Italy (15.5 per cent), India (12.7 per cent), and China (10.9 per cent). It will be interesting to see how these movements are reflected in the ARWU.

Let us now consider a couple of dimensions which are fundamental to the THE WUR.

Reputation survey

Globally, universities are paying more attention to the value of reputation, and the reputation surveys are shaping perception of the overall standing of an institution.

Over the past two years, the QS WUR has reported a decline by Australian universities on the academic reputation survey (CMM 9 June).

It is likely that we will see a downward trend in the reputation scores for many Australian universities in THE WUR, in part influenced by the fact that Australian borders have been closed for more than a year, hindering academic mobility. Repeated lockdowns may have also shaped voting intentions for many academics in the 2021 reputation survey. We have already seen the effect remote learning had on student sentiment as evidenced in the results of the Student Experience Survey.

The reputation survey accounts for 33 per cent of the overall score and is split in two parts: a teaching dimension with a weight of 15 per cent, and the research component weighs 18 per cent.

Citation impact

This metric is based on the Field Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) as derived by Elsevier. The FWCI score indicates how the number of citations received by an institution’s publications compares with the average number of citations received by all other similar publications. A FWCI of 1.00 indicates the global average.

A year-on-year comparison of the FWCI for Australian universities suggest there is a noticeable decrease in the aggregated 5-year score for many.

The standing of Australian universities on this dimension will depend on the relative of performance of universities globally. If the relative decline elsewhere is below the pattern observed in Australian universities, our universities are likely to hold ground on this dimension.

Let us now wait until results from these two rankings are released.

 Angel Calderon is principal advisor, planning and research at RMIT


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