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?
Three organisations have put their hands up to do the job:
You would think that some organisation in the USA would get into the world-ranking market, but 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?
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.
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 2012.
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||79||73||75||62||60||57|
|Australian National University||57||59||59||59||70||64|
|University of Queensland||102-150||101-151||101-151||101-150||86||90|
|University of Sydney||102-150||97||94||92||96||93|
|University of Western Australia||102-150||101-151||101-151||101-150||102-150||96|
|University of New South Wales||151-202||152-200||152-200||151-200||151-200||101-150|
|University of Adelaide||151-202||201-302||201-302||201-300||201-300||201-300|
|Flinders University of South Australia||305-402||303-401||303-401||301-400||301-400||301-400|
|James Cook University||403-510||303-401||402-501||301-400||301-400||301-400|
|University of Newcastle||305-402||303-401||303-401||301-400||301-400||301-400|
|University of Tasmania||403-510||303-401||303-401||401-500||301-400||301-400|
|University of Wollongong||403-510||303-401||303-401||301-400||401-500||301-400|
|Swinburne University of Technology||–||–||402-501||401-500||401-500||301-400|
|Curtin University of Technology||–||–||402-501||401-500||401-500||401-500|
|La Trobe University||403-510||402-503||402-501||401-500||401-500||401-500|
|University of Technology, Sydney||–||–||–||–||401-500||401-500|
|University of New England||403-510||–||–||–||–||–|
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. We suspect it is a pet project of some senior executive's mistress, who wants to see their Swiss finishing school listed as a top university.
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||16||17||20||26||24|
|University of Melbourne||27||38||=36||38||31||36|
|University of Sydney||31||37||=36||37||38||39|
|University of Queensland||33||43||41||43||48||46|
|University of New South Wales||44||45||47||46||49||52|
|University of Western Australia||64||83||84||89||73||79|
|University of Adelaide||62||106||81||103||92||102|
|Curtin University of Technology||–||232||=244||274||258||258|
|University of Wollongong||199||207||251||267||269||264|
|University of Newcastle||–||–||266||256||291||268|
|University of Canberra||–||–||–||–||–||279|
|Queensland University of Technology||195||212||=244||289||267||281|
|University of Technology, Sydney||–||234||232||257||268||284|
|University of South Australia||–||303||295||281||256||293|
|Flinders University of South Australia||–||273||254||251||299||342|
|University of Tasmania||–||291||326||–||343||357|
|James Cook University||–||401-500||=355||–||352||362|
|La Trobe University||–||242||241||286||317||375|
|Swinburne University of Technology||–||401-500||401-500||401-450||401-450||451-500|
|University of Western Sydney||–||–||–||–||601+||601+|
At first THES 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 of Melbourne||36||37||28|
|Australian National University||43||38||37|
|University of Sydney||71||58||62|
|University of Queensland||81||74||65|
|University of New South Wales||152||173||85|
|University of Adelaide||73||201-225||176|
|University of Western Australia||–||189||190|
|Queensland University of Technology||–||276-300||251-275|
|University of Newcastle||–||276-300||276-300|
|University of South Australia||–||351-400||301-350|
|University of Wollongong||–||251-275||301-350|
|Charles Darwin University||–||301-350||351-400|
|Flinders University of South Australia||–||351-400||351-400|
|University of Tasmania||–||301-350||351-400|
|University of Technology, Sydney||–||–||351-400|
|Curtin University of Technology||–||351-400||–|
|La Trobe University||–||351-400||–|
|Swinburne University of Technology||–||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.