How good are Australian universities? And does it matter?

Global university rankings: one Australian university makes the top 20.

MIT: Top ranked university in QS Quacquarelli Symonds survey for six years in a row

Australian National University is the highest ranked in the country at 20th place in the 2018 QS World University Rankings.

It is followed by the University of Melbourne, ranked at 41, the University of New South Wales at 45, the University of Queensland at 47 and the University of Sydney at 50. That’s pretty impressive given that there are nearly a thousand university surveyed.

The QS Quacquarelli Symonds  Survey rated MIT world Best University for the sixth year in a row ahead of Stanford University, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, University College London, Imperial College London, the University of Chicago and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Most of Australia’s top Group of 8 universities have improved their standing in this year’s survey. The reason?

Research director at QS Quacquarelli Symonds, Ben Sowter, said the improved ranking of Australian universities can be partially attributed to the changing political climate in countries such as the US and UK increasing Australia’s comparative popularity.

Now, in fairness are other dimensions to the survey but if “political climate” is a dimension to the standing of the university then there must be some doubt about the validity of the survey. This is a dimension that is totally beyond the control of the University and makes very little contribution to the nature of the teaching or research is conducted there.

But this does serve as a caution about the surveys that are conducted on the relative standing of global universities. There is no doubt that there is immense prestige attached to attending universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stamford, Yale, Cambridge or Oxford. But students also get an excellent education at many of the universities that don’t have the prestige and reputation of these blue-ribbon universities and which don’t rank in the top 50.

It is also important to remember that when choosing a university, especially as an undergraduate, many of the dimensions that are measured, such as qualifications of permanent staff, citations in prestigious journals and research output are unlikely to have much impact on the standard of the teaching in first and second year undergraduate classes and tutorials.  These are likely to be conducted by graduate students who do not have PhD’s, will not have an impressive research record and will probably have no teaching qualifications.

So what does all this mean? Not much actually. If you look at the top 10 universities in most of the global surveys, most Australian students are not going to have much chance of attending them so how do you chose?

There are some simple rules.

  •  Choose a course that you’re interested in, pragmatically it may need to be a vocational one. You may also need to remember you may need to have more than one job in your lifetime. So the one you pick isn’t going to be a life sentence.
  •  Talk to friends, family members, graduates anyone you can, about the program to find out about the quality of the teaching, facilities, employment opportunities etc.
  •   All things being equal, choose a university that is close to home if possible or at least close to transport. Travel can be a nightmare.  Living away from home is a great experience but you need to weigh up the time and expense of looking after yourself  and possibly working against the time you can spend studying.
  •  Some universities are just great big sausage machines.  If you want a sausage machine experience that’s fine but big inner-city campus universities won’t have much student life and you’re only an undergraduate once.

 

 

 

 

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