FINLAND: What a bunch of rankers!

Five of Finland's 20 universities were ranked within the world's top 500 universities in the 2009 Academic Ranking of World Universities. As the Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking is based primarily on universities' research performance, the top institution was the University of Helsinki, which was placed 72nd in the world, 21st in Europe and 4th in Scandinavia.

Other Finnish 'contenders' were the universities of Oulu and Turku (ranked in the 303 - 401 band), and Jyväskylä and Kuopio (ranked 402 - 501). The Helsinki University of Technology, or HUT, fell out of the esteemed top 500 group in 2009.

The pattern of representation of Finnish universities among the top 500 has changed little since its inception in 2003. Kuopio was in the top 500 in 2003 but dropped out between 2004 and 2007. HUT was represented from 2003 to 2008 while the others were in the ranking since the start although Turku slipped from the 200s to the 300s from 2007. The University of Helsinki's rank since 2003 has varied between 68th and 76th.

University of Helsinki chiefs will no doubt be pleased that they continue to feature relatively prominently in the Chinese list, given that a high ranking is taken as a reflection of high-quality research performance. This will be a fillip after Helsinki slipped out of the Times Higher Education's top 100 world universities in 2009, as reported recently in University World News.

The main reason for slippage in that poll was Helsinki's declining teacher-student ratio, one of the factors taken into account in the Times' broader-based ranking. Other factors in its league table relate to international reputation, research output and international staff and students.

The fact that HUT has disappeared from this year's ranking list will be disappointing for the university and the government. HUT is the senior partner in Aalto University, a merged university it is hoped will become Finland's 'world class' university.

Perhaps Aalto will recover in forthcoming years as it is to receive more government subsidies than other Finnish universities in an effort to achieve the 'world class' aspiration.

* Dr Ian R Dobson, an Australian scholar currently based in Finland, is editor of the Australian Universities' Review.