Connectivity is common factor in top HE systems

The top five higher education systems are the United States followed by Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark, according to the latest Universitas 21 Ranking.

The only change from 2017 is the inversion of Denmark and Sweden’s positions.

After the top five came Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Singapore and Australia.

The 2018 report ranks 50 countries across four areas (resources, environment, connectivity and output) and overall. The main ranking compares a country’s performance against the best in the world on each measure.

The ranking examined 24 measures across the four areas and overall, allowing them to create a very detailed picture of the higher education system across 50 countries.

The highest placed Asian country was Singapore, followed by Hong Kong, down three places at 17th, Japan (20), Taiwan-China (21st), South Korea (22nd), Malaysia (26th) and China (static at 30th), then a big gap to Iran (48th), India (49th) and Indonesia (50th).

European countries took 12 of the top 20 places – outside of the top 10 Austria (11th), Norway (12th) and Belgium (13th) outperformed Germany (15th) and France (16th), with Ireland 19th.

South Africa (37th) was the only African country represented in the top 50.

Among Latin American countries, the highest was Chile (34th), followed by Brazil (39th), Argentina (40th) and Mexico (46th).

Among Middle Eastern countries, Israel came 18th and Saudi Arabia 25th.

Collaboration and connectivity

The research authors are based at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, Australia, and worked on behalf of Universitas 21 (U21), a global network of research-intensive universities.

Commenting on this year’s results, lead author of the report Professor Ross Williams said the ranking shows the importance of collaboration and interconnectivity.

"The most successful national systems exhibit strong connectivity between institutions of higher education, government and the private sector," he said.

The Universitas 21 Ranking bills itself as the only report in the world to assess national higher education systems, meeting a long-standing need to shift discussion from the ranking of the world’s best universities, to the best overall systems in each country.

A subsidiary ranking also compares how nations perform relative to countries at similar levels of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

Developed as a benchmark for governments, education institutions, policy-makers and interested individuals, it aims to highlight the importance of creating strong conditions for higher education institutions to contribute to economic and cultural development, provide a high-quality experience for students, and assist institutions to compete effectively for overseas applicants.

The first report was published in May 2012. Universitas 21 funds the research at the University of Melbourne. The 2018 ranking has been extended in two ways – through examining the concentration of research and by investigating the importance of research training.

This year’s report concludes with some consideration of what makes a good higher education system. It says there is no single best model and while resources are important, it is not crucial where they come from.

The report highlights Salmi’s three types of relatively well-funded systems, comprising:
  • • Public provision to public institutions (the Nordic countries, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland).

  • • Predominantly public institutions with both public and private funding (Australia, Canada, England, Hong Kong SAR, the Netherlands and New Zealand).

  • • Mixed systems of private and public institutions both resourced by a mixture of private and public funding (Chile, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the United States).
On top of this overlays the policy environment, which should combine financial and academic autonomy for institutions, combined with external monitoring of performance. Efficiency is promoted by a diverse system, and institutional competition for students and resources.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, chair of Universitas 21, said the ranking provided a data-rich analysis of the characteristics, impact, connectivity and efficiency of national higher education systems.

“Now in its seventh year, it offers exceptionally important longitudinal and global perspectives on how national higher educational systems are changing,” he said.

Controlling for economic development

One of the interesting tables in the report is the overall ranking controlled for economic development, which puts Finland top, followed by the UK, Serbia, Denmark and Sweden.

The top ranked countries after allowing for income levels are Finland and the United Kingdom, where the scores imply an overall performance of 20% above the average level of achievement for countries at their income levels. Next in rank order are Serbia, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland and South Africa.

Nine countries improve their ranking by more than 10 places. Serbia, South Africa and India improve by more than 20 places. The countries that improve by between 11 and 20 places are Brazil, China, Greece, Iran, Portugal and Ukraine.

By contrast, the largest fall in rank compared is that of Saudi Arabia. The United States is measured as performing above expected values but nevertheless falls to 15th position; similarly, Singapore, the country with the highest income levels, now ranks only 21st.

Ireland falls substantially in rank to 36th, but this is heavily influenced by its high GDP per capita measured in purchasing power parity: it is the third-highest among the 50 countries examined. The report says that given the large number of foreign companies in Ireland, gross national income would probably be a more appropriate measure than GDP.