The international standing of Australian universities

The world's finest universities have always been international in outlook, attracting academics and students from many countries. Globalisation has meant an increased demand from students, employers, and academics for indicators of the international standing of universities. Decisions about where to study, whom to employ, or where to seek professional expertise should be based on quantitative and qualitative information but it is often difficult for the decision maker to obtain this information directly. In this paper we meet this need by providing information on the international standing of 39 Australian universities.

We assume that there is a 'brand effect' for the university as a whole, while acknowledging that there are discipline effects as well: the ranking of a given discipline across universities may differ from the ranking of institutions as single entities. We postulate however, that the variability in the quality of departments within an institution is falling as a result of the growth in interdisciplinary research and quality controls on departments and universities. Bad departments in good universities are becoming rarer.

Australia is a major contributor to world higher education. The OECD estimates that in 2002 around 1.90 million students were studying at the tertiary level outside their country of origin and Australia had the highest proportion of foreign students of any country. In absolute terms Australia ranked fourth behind only the United States, U.K. and Germany.

Within Australia there has been much discussion about the international standing of its universities. The discussion is often related back to funding issues. Is it possible under current funding arrangements for Australian universities to be high up in the international league tables? Are any Australian universities in the top 50 or top 100 in the world?

One answer to the last question has been provided by work done in the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University ( In the 2004 Shanghai study two Australian universities, ANU and Melbourne were ranked in the range 50-100. Fourteen Australian universities were listed among the top 500 world universities.1

We approach the measurement of international standing from two directions. In one approach we survey CEOs of some of the world's best universities and Deans of Australian universities for their perceptions of the international standing of Australian universities. The survey results provide us with a broad subjective measure of international standing; it is primarily a reputation measure. In the other approach we use published data which we combine into an index of current performance. The two approaches are linked in that we also asked those surveyed to provide us with the weights to combine the quantitative measures into a single index.

Measurement of standing is done both in absolute terms (where Australian universities stand vis a vis the world's best universities) and in relative terms within Australia.

Determinants of International Standing
In the Shanghai study the international ranking of a university is determined by research performance and its importance as judged by citations. We extend this approach by adding a range of other measures of performance and by allowing for the discipline mix in institutions between laboratory-based disciplines and non-laboratory based. Attributes are grouped under the following six headings:
(i) Quality/International standing of academic staff as measured by research output, citations, membership of learned academies, and success in obtaining research grants.

(ii) Quality of graduate programmes, particularly Ph.D. programmes, as measured by student surveys, progression rates and successful completions.
(iii) Quality of undergraduate entry as measured by Tertiary Entrance Scores
(iv) Quality of undergraduate programmes as measured by progression rates within the degree and to higher studies, student evaluations, and staff-student ratios.
(v) Resources as measured by total revenue deflated by the size of institution.
(vi) Subjective assessment as obtained through a survey of educationists.

The list is all the Group of Eight universities plus Flinders, LaTrobe, Macquarie, Murdoch, Newcastle and Tasmania.

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