The UK’s university system is the second best in the world when countries’ average incomes are taken into account – outperforming Denmark, Sweden and Finland – according to the latest edition of an international ranking.
The 2015 Universitas 21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems, published on 21 May, also shows that overall the UK has remained at eighth place in the world, beating Australia and Singapore for a second year running.
The ranking of 50 countries compares 25 measures across four weighted areas: spending by the government and the private sector on teaching and research; the number of research articles produced and the quality of the top institutions; connections with businesses and international institutions; and government policy and the regulatory environment.
For a second year, Universitas 21, a group of research-intensive universities from across the world, has also produced an alternative ranking that looks at whether a country does better or worse on these measures than would be expected based on the purchasing power of an average citizen.
On this, the UK punches above its weight. It has climbed four places since last year to claim second position. In doing so, it has overtaken last year’s number one nation in the table, Sweden, which is now in fourth place, and it sits 13 places above the US.
Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, explained that the UK “does very well in this measure” because it has “stellar research outputs” and is “exceptionally strong in connectivity” despite its per capita economic output not being very high.
“The UK research system, with most of its output carried out by the top 20 or so research universities, delivers fantastic value for money overall,” he said.
“The successive RAEs [research assessment exercises] and the REF [research excellence framework] have played a key role in building concentrated research performance in the Russell Group over time, within a system that is modestly funded overall, [scoring] only 26th out of 50 countries in resources.”
The Serbian anomaly
Serbia takes the top spot in the income-adjusted ranking. Its rise from fourth in last year’s list was driven by high scores for output and resources devoted to higher education.
However, Professor Marginson warned that Serbia’s prominence was “idiosyncratic” and a consequence of its very low per capita GDP for a European country and of its concentration of research resources and talent at the University of Belgrade, which boosts its score on the output measures.
Meanwhile, Switzerland and South Africa have both made their top 10 debuts in the income-adjusted list, ranking eighth and 10th place respectively.
Switzerland has also performed well in the overall ranking, rising from sixth to second place. Some of that upward momentum can be attributed to changes in methodology, which this year for the first time included measures of the financial autonomy of public universities.
The US still tops the Universitas 21 table when not adjusted for per capita economic output– where it has been since the list began in 2012.
National powers: the best for system strength
Universitas 21 Ranking 2015 top 50: main ranking
|2015 rank||2014 rank||Country|
|15||15||Hong Kong SAR|
Universitas 21 Ranking 2015 top 50: adjusted for average incomes
|2015 rank||2014 rank||Country|
|31||39||Hong Kong SAR|