Australian Financial Review 3 September 2012
University rankings have become a formidable force in contemporary higher education, and none more so than the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) compiled by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Simon Marginson, a University of Melbourne professor and rankings expert who sits on an advisory committee to the ARWU, says a ranking is the equivalent of an equity price in the corporate world.
On the ground, higher rankings mean better students, better staff and more money:
If you’re higher ranked than someone else you attract more high-quality students, better staff come to work for you and, all other things being equal, you’re more likely to attract industry money for consultancy and research. Generally the better you do in the rankings the better off you are generally.
In all, 19 Australian universities feature on the ARWU’s top 500 league table. The top 10 is dominated by US institutions, with HarvardUniversity in number one spot. The University of Tokyo is the top-ranked Asian university but China is expected to make significant inroads in coming decades.
Although it has no universities in the top 100, this year China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, has 42 universities in the top 500, overtaking the UK, which has 38 universities in the top 500, to take second place in country terms.
The ARWU rankings give significant weight to Nobel prize winners, as well as publications in the journals Nature and Science. The humanities and social sciences are completely excluded.
Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb, a former vice-chancellor of the ANU, is sceptical about ARWU rankings:
That particular ranking is referred to as prestigious and highly regarded and I don’t think it’s any of those things. I think what it does is pick half a dozen indicators like how many papers you publish in Science or Nature and how many of your staff or alumni have won a Nobel prize, and there is a lot more to a university of quality than those things. It tells you about one very small part of an institution’s activity.