The positioning of New Zealand universities in the 2014/2015 QS World University Rankings, released today, remains stable; however, an overall lack of improvement suggests more investment is needed for universities to be globally competitive.
The University of Auckland remains New Zealand’s only institution in the top 100, moving up two places from last year into 92nd position. The University of Otago comes in at 159th, down from 155th last year. University of Canterbury (242), Victoria University of Wellington (275=), and Massey University (346) are also slightly down on last year’s rankings, while University of Waikato (401-410) retains its position. Lincoln University has jumped some 70 places from 481-490 last year to 411-420 in this year’s rankings, while AUT fell just shy of the top 500.
Lincoln University Acting Vice-Chancellor Sheelagh Matear said the university was “very pleased” with the significant increase, particularly in the academic reputation and international students categories.
The QS rankings assess a number of different categories in the areas of research, teaching, employability, and internationalisation. Dissection of the results reveals varying strengths and weaknesses of the universities.
The University of Otago performed best in New Zealand for research citations per faculty, ranking 158th, while The University of Auckland ranked 232nd in this area. The University of Canterbury ranked 173rd for employer reputation.
Acting Chair of Universities New Zealand Professor Harlene Hayne, Vice Chancellor of the University of Otago, notes that although New Zealand universities improved their ranking scores across the six assessment criteria by 1.6 per cent this year, they ended up with a mix of small increases or decreases in their overall ranking position.
"This reflects the level of competition internationally. All major universities are working hard to lift their rankings and New Zealand universities are having to work hard just to hold their current position. To put that 1.6% in context; if other international universities had not also lifted their game, New Zealand universities would have risen by an average of ten places each. As it was most rose or fell by just a couple of places,” says Hayne.
“The unfortunate reality is that New Zealand universities have realised all the easy gains and the long term trend is down. Without more support from Government, this country’s universities run the risk of hitting a tipping point where the best academics choose to work elsewhere and the best students choose to study elsewhere. Once you hit that tipping point, international experience shows there’s no easy way back.”
QS head of research Ben Sowter agrees that there is no room for complacency for New Zealand universities.
“New Zealand’s overall performance shows stability but also indicates that continuous investment is needed to ensure that its higher education sector remains globally competitive. Initiatives such as the increased government funding announced last year to promote the country as a top study destination are certainly positive signals,” says Sowter.
Professor Hayne argues that government funding per student has been declining in real terms over the past two decades.
"Universities have had to cut the number of staff per student and this has single-handedly contributed to the largest drop in rankings. Similarly, we are not doing enough to support new academic staff as they develop their teaching skills and research profile. This also has a significant impact on rankings.”
The QS rankings, now in their tenth year, included 865 universities, out of over 3000 considered. Universities from the United States and United Kingdom continue to dominate the rankings, with American university MIT in first position for the third consecutive year, followed by Britain’s University of Cambridge and Imperial College in second place. Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale all retained a spot in the top ten.
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