Drop in public funding blamed for rankings fall

Australian universities say financial constraints are cause of declining performance, writes John Gill

October 16, 2008

Australian vice-chancellors have pointed the finger at inadequate public funding to explain the decline of almost all of the country's top universities in the Times Higher Education-QS World Rankings published last week.

Australian universities in the top 200
University2008 rank2007 rank
Australian National16(16)
Sydney37(31)
Melbourne38()
Queensland43(33)
New South Wales45(44)
Monash47(43)
Western Australia83(64)
Adelaide106(62)
Macquarie182(168)
While Australia's higher education sector remains one of the strongest after the US and UK, with the Australian National University (ANU) retaining the highest ranking of any institution outside the two leading nations, eight of its nine universities to make the top 200 saw their positions fall, year on year.

As the Australian sector analyses the reasons for this slip, blame has been laid firmly at the door of the Government's funding regime.

John Taplin, pro vice-chancellor (international) at the University of Adelaide, which fell from 62nd to 106th, said that, despite the declining fortunes of Australian universities, their performance in the rankings was impressive when the constraints they faced were considered.

He said: "Collectively, 24 per cent of the public universities within the Australian higher education sector are included in the 2008 top 200 list. This is an impressive result, and especially so as we have seen a significant decline in per capita funding of universities ... during the past decade, and because (universities') research activities have not been fully funded by the Government, either."

Earlier this year the Government commissioned two reviews of Australian higher education and research, which the sector hopes will address these issues.

Professor Taplin said: "It is clear that there is a relationship between a university's world ranking and how well funded it is. For Australian universities to continue to be major contributors to the advancement of knowledge globally, it is vital that the funding issues are addressed effectively in the near future."

Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of ANU, which claimed 16th place, said his institution was "in a pretty good neighbourhood" at the top of the table, but he argued that Australia should take note of other countries, where rival sectors had benefited from a "massive, selective injections of funds".

He said: "We have to recognise that not all Australian universities are ever going to be funded enough to have us all in the global top 50, so there has to be selective funding, linked in some way to performance."

International funding differentials were also raised by Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, which fell from th to 38th. He said: "It is very difficult for Australian universities to compete in these rankings with well-resourced UK, US and Japanese universities ... This is why it is vital that the current review of higher education in Australia seriously addresses this issue."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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