Reading the international university ranking tea leaves

Posted By TEU on Sep 9, 2010 |

The Ministry of Education reports that New Zealand’s performance in the 2010 Shanghai Jiao Tong University Annual Ranking of World Universities is reasonably strong. It says that, once the size of academic workforces is taken into account, the University of Otago in 99th place was the highest ranked of the New Zealand universities, followed by the University of Auckland in 240th place.

The same report said that, in terms of a country’s share of universities in the ARWU top 500, once share of the world economy is taken into account then New Zealand ranked first in the world. When taking into account our share of the world’s population, New Zealand ranked eighth in the world.

However, the New Zealand Herald, reporting on a different university ranking system, the QS World University Rankings, notes that New Zealand universities have all dropped places, with the University of Auckland the only one now in the top 100.

QS World University Rankings spokesman John Molony said all New Zealand universities slipped in the rankings because of their faculty-to-student ratio.

“While this has largely been offset with a good result in research performance, it does leave New Zealand’s higher education reputation at risk internationally as institutions and systems around the world increase their investment in academic staff.”

TEU national president, Dr Tom Ryan, says it is interesting that the ministry of education is using New Zealand’s falling staff-student ratio to talk up New Zealand’s performance, while the QS spokesperson points to that same ratio as a reason for New Zealand’s drop on the league table.

“These provide another example of how ranking systems and league tables can be very misleading and open to abuse. Political and other contexts always needs to be part of any such analysis,” says Dr Ryan.

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