Why Australian universities are dropping out of the global top 100

Angus Kidman 10 May 2016 NEWS


It's hard to inspire students when you don't know where the money's coming from.

In the latest Times Higher Education World Reputation Survey, just three Australian universities make the top 100.

The University of Melbourne was equal 49th, and the Australian National University and University of Sydney both made it into the 61-70 band. All suffered drops from their positions last year, when Melbourne was 41st and the other two were in the 51-60 band. (The survey doesn't show exact positions below 50.)

Two other Australian universities, the University of Queensland and Monash University, fell out of the top 100 entirely, having appeared there in 2015. The study is based on a survey of 10,323 academics, with research ranked at twice the level of teaching.

Make due allowance for the reality that one survey does not dictate a country's future, is this a reasonable outcome? Australia's population of 24 million accounts for just 0.3% of the globe's estimated 7.4 billion people. You'd expect a first-world country to do better than the basic percentages, so having three in the top 100 isn't actually terrible. But it isn't great news either, especially when one of the key policies in tertiary education in Australia over the last two decades has been to encourage overseas students, who pay full fees.

Undoubtedly one of the most disruptive factors in the university sector right now is the lack of certainty about how they will be funded in the future. The Coalition government tried to introduce a policy that would remove caps on fees and increase the amount students had to pay in its 2014 budget, but was unable to get it through the Senate. The most recent budget says nothing whatsoever about how this policy might evolve in the future, so we'll have to wait until after the election to have any idea.

That's not great in the tertiary sector, which generally has to plan years in advance. But as long as that situation continues, getting more universities into these sorts of top 100 lists seems unlikely.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

Picture: Nils Versemann / Shutterstock.com

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