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New rankings of national higher education systems in 48 countries

Most of us are familiar with rankings like those of QS, Times Higher Education and ARWU – but those only look at individual institutions. A new report into national education systems gives the first ranking of countries and territories which are the ‘best’ at providing higher education.

Researchers from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (University of Melbourne) applied 20 different measures to data collected from 48 countries and territories to construct the ranking for Universitas 21, an international network of 23 research-intensive institutions.

Universitas 21 developed the ranking as a benchmark for governments, education institutions and individuals. It aims to highlight the importance of creating a strong environment for higher education institutions to contribute to economic and cultural development, provide a high-quality experience for students and help institutions compete for overseas applicants.

Countries were evaluated on a series of measures (which also took into account population size) related to the following:

  • resources (investment by governments and private sources);
  • output (research and its impact, and graduates who meet labour market needs);
  • connectivity (international networks and collaboration);
  • the higher education environment (government policy and regulation, diversity and participation opportunities).

The top 10 in the overall ranking were, in order:

  1. US
  2. Sweden
  3. Canada
  4. Finland
  5. Denmark
  6. Switzerland
  7. Norway
  8. Australia
  9. Netherlands
  10. UK

Additional key findings include:

  • There is a strong relationship between resources and output: of the top eight countries in output, only the UK and Australia are not in the top eight for resources.
  • There is some evidence of groupings of neighbouring countries. The four Nordic countries are all in the top seven; four east Asian countries or territories (Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Taiwan and Korea) are clustered together at ranks 18 to 22; Eastern European countries (Ukraine, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia) are together in the middle range; and the Latin American countries (Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico) cluster together. It would seem that while many countries may feel they cannot match the higher education system in the United States, they do want to match that of their neighbours.
  • Government funding of higher education as a percentage of GDP is highest in Finland, Norway and Denmark, but when private expenditure is added in, funding is highest in the United States, Korea, Canada and Chile.
  • International students form the highest proportions of total student numbers in Australia, Singapore, Austria, United Kingdom and Switzerland.
  • Investment in research and development is highest in Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. The United States dominates the total output of research journal articles, but Sweden is the biggest producer of articles per head of population. The nations whose research has the greatest impact are Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United States, United Kingdom and Denmark.
  • International research collaboration is most prominent in Indonesia, Switzerland, Hong Kong SAR, Denmark, Belgium and Austria. China, India, Japan and the United States rank in the bottom 25% of countries for international research collaboration.
  • While the US and UK have the world’s top institutions in rankings, the depth of world class higher education institutions per head of population is best in Switzerland, Sweden, Israel and Denmark.
  • The highest participation rates in higher education are in Korea, Finland, Greece, the United States, Canada and Slovenia.
  • The countries with the largest proportion of workers with a higher level education are Russia, Canada, Israel, United States, Ukraine, Taiwan and Australia. Meanwhile Finland, Denmark, Singapore, Norway and Japan have the highest ratio of researchers in the economy.
  • In all but eight countries at least 50% of students were female, the lowest being in India and Korea. In only five countries were there at least 50% female staff; the lowest being in Japan and Iran.

Professor Ross Williams, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne commented on the findings: “Competition between individual institutions on regional and international levels is intense and growing as mobility increases and all ‘markets’ become more open.

It’s crucial for nations and the appreciation of the global higher education system as a whole that attention is not bogged down in rivalries between single ‘name’ players in higher education capable of attracting an elite.

Whole country systems matter to mass populations of people, improving their lives and contributing to national and international prosperity. The Universitas 21 Ranking should be recognised as an important reference point for governments and everyone involved in higher education, to keep focus and attention on how higher education can be galvanised for growth.”

Sources: The Guardian, Universitas 21

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