Australia's Best Universities
The Good Oil
Ranking the world's universities is a big job, and a difficult one. It's impossible to say how far the concept is meaningful. Everyone would agree that some universities are better than others, but how do we measure the differences? As Aussies, we want to know where our universities stand. If you can't find your Aussie university here, you might want to rethink your educational choice. The lists rarely agree.
Updated Added rankings for 2013.
Three organisations have put their hands up to do the job:
- ARWU. Source: China. The first was Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, which only began the exercise in 2003. Several international conferences and many name changes later, these ratings are now conducted under the rubric of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).
- THE World University Rankings. Source: UK. In 2004 The Times Higher Education Supplement in the United Kingdom conducted a parallel exercise. It was originally known as the THES rankings, then the QS/THES rankings when it joined with some mob called Quacquarelli Symonds. For reasons that remain unclear, The Times Higher Education Supplement ditched Quacquarelli Symonds in 2009 and started production on a third rating system, this time in conjunction with Thomson Reuters. This is now known as the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.
- QS Topuniversities. Source: UK. After the split from THE, Quacquarelli Symonds continued the ratings as QS Topuniversities.
These ranking systems are the best we have, for all their defects. You can read a statistical comparison of the two here, and in this article in the Wikipedia. A more partisan and deranged – but nonetheless interesting – Wikipedia article can be found here.
Rankings Systems from the USA
The rankings are made by British and Chinese organisations. You would think that some organisation in the USA would get into the world-ranking market. Americans love statistics, and they are very good at compiling rankings and ratings. We suspect that the idea that there might be universities of world-class stature outside the USA is so alien to the American mind, that they simply assume such an index would be redundant: just list all the universities in the USA. What others are there?
The ARWU rankings
The ARWU ranks the top 500 or so of the world's universities. In their analysis, Australia does surprisingly well: with a tiny 1.5% of global GDP and a minuscule 0.3% of global population, it has 3.8% of the world's top 500 universities. The table below shows the number of universities in the top 500, by country. There do seem to be a lot of Chinese universities, though, don't there?
|Country||No. in top 500|
|30 other countries||86|
We've read both a defence and critique of ARWU's methodology in one of our favourite journals, Scientometrics1. You can find a further critique by Richard Holmes of the University of Malaysia in the Asian Journal of University Education. He also has some comments about Australian universities at a blog. Well worth reading.
The ARWU does not supply a specific rank after number 100, only a grouping. Admittedly, the groupings are inconsistent from year to year, but what the hey.
|University of Melbourne||73||75||62||60||57||54|
|Australian National University||59||59||59||70||64||66|
|University of Queensland||101-151||101-151||101-150||86||90||85|
|University of Sydney||97||94||92||96||93||97|
|University of Western Australia||101-151||101-151||101-150||102-150||96||91|
|University of New South Wales||152-200||152-200||151-200||151-200||101-150||101-151|
|University of Adelaide||201-302||201-302||201-300||201-300||201-300||201-302|
|Flinders University of South Australia||303-401||303-401||301-400||301-400||301-400||301-401|
|James Cook University||303-401||402-501||301-400||301-400||301-400||301-401|
|University of Newcastle||303-401||303-401||301-400||301-400||301-400||301-401|
|University of Tasmania||303-401||303-401||401-500||301-400||301-400||301-401|
|University of Wollongong||303-401||303-401||301-400||401-500||301-400||301-401|
|Swinburne University of Technology||–||402-501||401-500||401-500||301-400||301-401|
|Curtin University of Technology||–||402-501||401-500||401-500||401-500||401-501|
|La Trobe University||402-503||402-501||401-500||401-500||401-500||401-502|
|University of Technology, Sydney||–||–||–||401-500||401-500||401-503|
The QS Topuniversities rankings
In 2011 QS Topuniversities described itself as
the most trusted university ranking in the world.
How that accolade was achieved, we know not. In 2012 they downgraded that to a more modest
among the most
trusted university rankings available.
There is no doubt that it's own website is No 1 for confusion. To add to that, QS Topuniversities has created a parallel ranking system in competition to itself called QS Stars. We have no idea what that means, and – from their own incoherent explanation – neither do they.
In 2007 QS Topuniversities ranked the top 200 of the world's universities, but expanded its purview so that by 2012 it ranked 700. QS Topuniversities ranks the Australian universities much, much higher than ARWU does. We are more than dubious.
The table below lists every Australian university that has appeared in any of their rankings.
We haven't seen anyone defend the QS Topuniversities rankings in any scholarly journal: for that you have to go to this lunatic's email.
|Australian National University||16||17||20||26||24||27|
|University of Melbourne||38||=36||38||31||36||31|
|University of Sydney||37||=36||37||38||39||38|
|University of Queensland||43||41||43||48||46||43|
|University of New South Wales||45||47||46||49||52||52|
|University of Western Australia||83||84||89||73||79||84|
|University of Adelaide||106||81||103||92||102||104|
|University of Technology, Sydney||234||232||257||268||284||272|
|University of Wollongong||207||251||267||269||264||276|
|Queensland University of Technology||212||=244||289||267||281||279|
|Curtin University of Technology||232||=244||274||258||258||284|
|University of Newcastle||–||266||256||291||268||298|
|James Cook University||401-500||=355||–||352||362||351|
|La Trobe University||242||241||286||317||375||390|
|University of South Australia||303||295||281||256||293||=341|
|University of Tasmania||291||326||–||343||357||401-410|
|Flinders University of South Australia||273||254||251||299||342||431-440|
|Swinburne University of Technology||401-500||401-500||401-450||401-450||451-500||481-490|
|University of Canberra||–||–||–||–||279||601-650|
|University of Western Sydney||–||–||–||601+||601+||651-700|
The THE World University Rankings
At first THE ranked only 200 universities, then expanded to the world's top 500 universities.It
fessed up on
its website that it had right-royally screwed up the 2010 rankings for the University of Oslo, Monash University,
and the University of Adelaide. Given that, we find it a little hard to accept their self-description as
only global university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions
– teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.
|University of Melbourne||36||37||28||34|
|Australian National University||43||38||37||48|
|University of Queensland||81||74||65||63|
|University of Sydney||71||58||62||72|
|University of New South Wales||152||173||85||114|
|University of Western Australia||–||189||190||168|
|University of Adelaide||73||201-225||176||201-225|
|University of Newcastle||–||276-300||276-300||251-275|
|Queensland University of Technology||–||276-300||251-275||276-300|
|University of Wollongong||–||251-275||301-350||276-300|
|University of South Australia||–||351-400||301-350||301-350|
|University of Technology, Sydney||–||–||351-400||301-350|
|Charles Darwin University||–||301-350||351-400||351-400|
|University of Tasmania||–||301-350||351-400||351-400|
|Swinburne University of Technology||–||351-400||–||351-400|
|Flinders University of South Australia||–||351-400||351-400||–|
|Curtin University of Technology||–||351-400||–||–|
|La Trobe University||–||351-400||–||–|
1. 'Academic ranking of world universities', Scientometrics (2005) 64(1):101; and 'Irreproducibility of the results of the Shanghai academic ranking of world universities', Scientometrics (2007) 72(1):25.