Finnish universities top in world in GDP-adjusted ranking

Nordic country’s higher education system punches above its weight in Universitas 21 ranking

May 11, 2018
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Finland’s universities are the highest performing in the world when countries’ levels of economic development are taken into account, according to a ranking of national higher education systems.

The Nordic country has overtaken Serbia to claim pole position in the Universitas 21 development-adjusted ranking for 2018, up from sixth in last year’s table.

The UK remains in second place in the ranking adjusted for gross domestic product, while Serbia slips to third and South Africa drops five places to eighth. The US remains at 15th.

Finland is also joint sixth, up from ninth, in the overall top 50 ranking, which is based on systems’ absolute performance.

This table is topped by the US, Switzerland and the UK. Sweden and Denmark swap places to claim fourth and fifth positions, respectively, this year, while Singapore slips three places to ninth.

The Universitas 21 rankings are created by a global consortium of research universities to compare the performance of whole countries, as an alternative to other rankings that focus on individual institutions.

The rankings are based on 24 separate variables, including the number and impact of research articles produced, university enrolment and graduate unemployment, a qualitative assessment of a country’s policy environment, and spending on tertiary education as a proportion of GDP.

The development-adjusted ranking is measured by adjusting GDP in purchasing-power parity terms to compensate for different prices across countries.

Ross Williams, emeritus professor of econometrics at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the study, said that Finland achieved a “higher relative score on web impact”, which measures the visibility and impact of its universities’ online presence and publications.

It also improved on a measure that calculates the scores that a nation’s three best universities received in ShanghaiRanking’s 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities and a metric comparing the unemployment rates of tertiary educated and non-tertiary educated adults.

Professor Williams added that Nordic countries in general achieved high scores in the ranking “because of high government expenditure, and strong links between universities, industry and government”.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of new data from a European University Association survey of the financial autonomy of publicly funded institutions lowered Serbia's score this year, he said.

Universitas 21 ranking 2018 top 10: main ranking

2018 rank 2017 rank Country
1 1 US
2 2 Switzerland
3 3 UK
4 5 Sweden
5 4 Denmark
=6 9 Finland
=6 8 Netherlands
8 7 Canada
9 6 Singapore
10 10 Australia 

Universitas 21 ranking 2018 top 10: adjusted for economic development 

2018 rank 2017 rank Country
1 6 Finland
2 2 UK
3 1 Serbia
4 4 Denmark
5 5 Sweden
6 8 Portugal
7 12 Switzerland
8 3 South Africa
9 9 Israel
10 7 New Zealand

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