Architectural Blatherations

Australia's Best Universities

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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.

The Rankers

Three organisations have put their hands up to do the job:

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 Rankings

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
United States 150
China 42
United Kingdom 38
Germany 37
Canada 22
Japan 21
France 20
Italy 20
Australia 19
Netherlands 13
Spain 11
Sweden 11
South Korea 10
30 other countries 86

Number of universities in the ARWU top 500, by country.

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 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
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
Monash University 201-302 201-302 151-200 151-200 101-150 101-150
University of New South Wales 152-200 152-200 151-200 151-200 101-150 101-151
Macquarie University 201-302 201-302 201-300 201-300 201-300 201-301
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
Griffith University 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 ARWU ranking of Australian universities.

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.

University 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
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
Monash University 47 45 61 60 61 69
University of Western Australia 83 84 89 73 79 84
University of Adelaide 106 81 103 92 102 104
Macquarie University 182 189 220 211 233 263
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
RMIT 206 223 228 246 291
University of Newcastle 266 256 291 268 298
James Cook University 401-500 =355 352 362 351
Deakin University 396 =355 401-450 401-450 380
La Trobe University 242 241 286 317 375 390
University of South Australia 303 295 281 256 293 =341
Griffith University 325 291 346 368 =341
University of Tasmania 291 326 343 357 401-410
Bond University 380 421-430
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
Murdoch University 401-500 401-500 451-500 501-550 401-450 551-600
University of Canberra 279 601-650
University of Western Sydney 601+ 601+ 651-700

The QS Topuniversities ranking of Australian universities.

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 the only global university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

University 2010/2011 2011/2012 2012/2013 2013/2014
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
Monash University 178 117 99 91
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
Macquarie University 226-250 251-275 276-300
Queensland University of Technology 276-300 251-275 276-300
University of Wollongong 251-275 301-350 276-300
Murdoch University 301-350 301-350
University of South Australia 351-400 301-350 301-350
Deakin University 351-400 351-400 301-350
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
Griffith University 351-400
La Trobe University 351-400

The THE World University Rankings ranking of Australian universities.


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.