World University Rankings 2023: top marks for Australian sector

Covid’s impacts are yet to take the sheen off local universities’ rankings performance, with their average scores now topping the world

October 12, 2022
Melbourne, Australia

Pandemic disruption is yet to damage Australian universities’ standing in the international league tables, with the country achieving the highest average performance in this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings – and Melbourne claiming clear bragging rights as the nation’s premier higher education city.

Australia’s overall position in the rankings has improved, with more institutions moving up the ladder than down and their average scores rising by almost 1.2 points in a 100-point scale. This made Oceania the best-performing region pound for pound, with an average score of 51.4 compared with North America’s 50.4.

At the upper end of the scale, Monash University has leapfrogged interstate rivals to be deemed Australia’s second-best university and the 44th best in the world, up from 57th last year. Crosstown rival the University of Melbourne retained the nation’s top spot at 34th, down a notch from last year’s 33rd.

Other star performers included the University of Adelaide, which roared back into the top 100 for the first time since 2011, improving by 23 places to 88th.

Private Bond University improved its standing by about 250 places after earning a high score on citations – a metric that ranks the average number of times the institution’s published work has been cited by scholars globally. On this measure, which contributes 30 per cent of each university’s overall score, Bond was deemed equal seventh-best university in the world.

But New Zealand’s overall standing in the rankings slipped, with four universities losing ground – including the three highest-ranked institutions – even though the average score across the country’s eight institutions improved marginally.

Rankings architect Phil Baty said this reflected the “increasingly competitive” environment as institutions in other regions, particularly East Asia and the Middle East, surged ahead.

“You have to run very fast to stand still in the global rankings,” said Mr Baty, THE’s chief knowledge officer. “Losing ground can risk a vicious circle of gradually losing access to global talent and partnerships.” 

He attributed Australia’s overall success to its research productivity, its “very strong” international collaboration, its “lucrative overseas student market” and its “very healthy levels of research funding over the past 15 years or so”.

But he cautioned that much of the fallout from the pandemic was yet to influence the rankings data, including the financial consequences of the “severe constraints on student mobility”.

Some of the information used to construct the rankings comes from pre-pandemic times, including most of the citations data. The Academic Reputation Survey, which contributes one-third of each institution’s overall score, reflects peer impressions formed over years.

Data on “international outlook” – a traditional area of strength for Australasian universities, reflecting their high shares of foreign staff, students and research collaborations – comes from 2019-20, mostly before borders closed in March 2020. This helps explain why Auckland University of Technology was deemed the world’s 24th best institution for international outlook, despite New Zealand’s 30-month period of isolation.

Monash and Adelaide featured among three Australian universities with scores of over 90 for both citations and international outlook. Monash has combined its research and internationalisation strategies in a unique way, establishing a string of overseas campuses focused on postgraduate study and research.

“These results are a reflection of our commitment to fostering a world-class research and teaching environment…and our ambitious collaboration with a global network of research partners,” said vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner.

The University of Melbourne notched Australia’s best scores on research and teaching, ranked 39th in the world on both measures. “Melbourne has been consistently ranked among the world’s finest universities for over a decade now,” said vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell. “It’s a reputation earned by the university’s staff, who continue to produce outstanding research and work tirelessly to educate our students.”

Other Australian success stories included Charles Darwin University and the University of Southern Queensland, both of which improved their standings by about 150 places. Central Queensland University moved from the top 800 into the top 600, and Murdoch University from the top 600 into the top 500.

In New Zealand, Lincoln University and Victoria University of Wellington bucked the national trend, both climbing about 100 places into the top 500.

The University of the South Pacific, which debuted in the rankings last year, maintained its standing among the world’s 1,200 best institutions.

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