Australia’s place in the world University rankings

The Times higher education world University rankings have been published.  The top 10 is unchanged except for the fact that the University of Oxford has replaced Caltech at the top.  Other than that, the top 10 is unchanged.

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The other thing is that the top universities are, for the most part, old universities. Oxford began taking students in the ninth century so they’ve had a while to get their act together.

However, The Times to note that a number of Asian universities were moving their way up the pecking order most noticeably Chinese University of Hong Kong and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)),  City University of Hong Kong, University of Science and Technology of China, Fudan University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Time will tell whether these universities can break into the really big league.

One theory has it that the elite universities that have been established for centuries the best staff and the best students and this creates a virtual cycle which makes it very difficult for newcomers to break in.

Six Australian universities finished in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education world university rankings, which were released on Thursday.

The University of Melbourne was again ranked 33rd, followed by the Australian National University (47th), the University of Queensland (equal 60th), the University of Sydney (equal 60th), Monash University (74th) and the University of New South Wales (78th).

It’s interesting to do some comparison in terms of funding, academic staff and student load. It is a crude comparison but it gives some idea of what the competition gets like the top of the league table.

Oxford’s total income  stands at £1,43b ($A2.45b) with 1800 academic staff and 22,000  students

Melbourne University by comparison a revenue of $2b with 4000 academic staff and student enrolments of 45,000.

The fabulously funded Harvard had revenue of $US4.53b and an investment and endowment base of around $US32b.

So the world best university has approximately 20% more funding, roughly the same staff student ratios but the ability to pay staff and/or fund research at twice the rate of Melbourne University.

And this is a time when the Federal Government is seeking to reduce funding to tertiary education.

Australian universities are punching above their weight in the world league but funding cuts, particularly when they occur over a long period of time, will eventually erode international competitiveness.

All the talk about agile economies, innovation, entrepreneurship et cetera needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt when the talk is not backed up by dollars.

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