Australian universities see overall ranking improvement

It has been a good year for Australia in the QS World University Rankings with all four of its highest-ranked universities improving their position, more of its entrants rising than falling, and Australian National University breaking back into the global top 30 (joint 27th).

By contrast with Australia, more than half – five out of eight – of New Zealand’s universities lost ground in the rankings.

Overall, QS rank 38 Australian universities in this year’s table: the ninth-highest total of any country or territory. Of these, 16 have improved their position over the past year, 11 have declined in rank, nine neither improve nor decline in rank, and two – University of the Sunshine Coast and University of Notre Dame Australia – were ranked for the first time.

Australasia’s top 10 universities are all based in Australia except for the University of Auckland, New Zealand. They are Australian National University (joint 27th), the University of Melbourne (37th), the University of Sydney (38th), the University of New South Wales (43rd), the University of Queensland (47th), Monash University (58th), University of Auckland (joint 85th), the University of Western Australia (93rd), the University of Adelaide (108th) and the University of Technology Sydney (133rd).

Ben Sowter, director of research at QS, said Australian successes in the rankings are based on two key factors: outstanding research impact and high levels of internationalisation.

“Eight Australian universities achieve perfect scores for our International Faculty Ratio indicator, and 12 achieve a score of 80/100 or above for International Student Ratio. In other words: the continued strength of Australian higher education is predicated on its enduring appeal to the global academic community.”

He said falls in international enrolments – particularly from its two biggest markets, China and India – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will not only present a financial threat to its institutions, with international students contributing AU$9.8 billion (US$7.6 billion) in revenue to Australia’s universities in 2019 alone, but will also “jeopardise the intellectual diversity and exchange that are causing Australia’s institutions to thrive”.

New Zealand’s leading university remains the University of Auckland, which has retained its top-100 position (85th, down four places year-on-year). The University of Otago retains its top-200 position after slipping 10 places to joint 194th. The University of Canterbury jumped 12 places to joint 258th and Lincoln University rose 15 places to 372nd, a place ahead of the University of Waikato.

Seven of New Zealand’s eight ranked universities are trending downwards in QS’s Academic Reputation metric and five are falling in QS’s Faculty:Student Ratio indicator, which is designed as a proxy measure for teaching capacity. Six of the eight ranked universities are placed outside the top 500 for this indicator, implying that an expansion in national teaching capacity is essential if New Zealand’s universities are to enjoy ranking improvements, QS says.

Sowter said New Zealand is not alone in experiencing systemic teaching provision challenges.

“Across the QS World University Rankings, we are seeing higher education systems struggle to increase teaching capacity at rates commensurate with rising student demand and the desire to attract international students.

“However, as extensive engagement with those students makes clear, the extent to which a university experience features personalised learning is an essential factor in choosing a study destination – so it is imperative that this challenge is acknowledged and combatted.”