Rankings pressure on university from Asia

Harlene Hayne.
Harlene Hayne.
The University of Otago's performance in international rankings has been mixed in recent years, with pressure from Asian universities making it harder to compete.

That is the picture painted in a Ministry of Education report which looks at how New Zealand universities have performed in the three main ranking systems - Times Higher Education (THE), Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

The declining performance in these rankings recently prompted Otago University vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne to call for more Government funding for New Zealand universities, or else risk having them fall behind.

''If the New Zealand universities continue to slip in the rankings they will not attract and retain the best staff and students.

''New Zealand must invest more in our universities so we can compete in an increasingly crowded, competitive international market,'' Prof Hayne said in her role as Universities NZ deputy chairwoman.

The Ministry of Education report showed Otago University's ranking, along with all its New Zealand counterparts, fell in the QS rankings - in Otago's case from 114 in 2007 to 155 last year.

In contrast, the university was one of only two New Zealand universities to move up the ARWU rankings between 2003 and 2013 - going from the 351-400 band to the 201-300 band.

Its performance in the THE rankings was steady, hovering around the 226-250 mark.

The author of the report, Dr Warren Smart, said overall the performance of New Zealand universities - like their Australian counterparts - was ''mixed''.

This comes amid increasing investment in Asian universities.

''In particular, the rise in rankings of universities from Asia appears to be having a displacement effect on the Australasian universities,'' Dr Smart said.

However, it was not all bad, with all of New Zealand universities placing in the QS top 500 for the first time last year, something ''not achieved by the Australian, Canadian or United Kingdom university systems''.

Dr Smart stressed that despite flaws in the ranking systems, they were ''important because people think they are important''.

''They are also one of the only ways people can access information on the relative performance of individual universities from different countries.

''And because they provide a shorthand view of performance, they may be an influence on student flows and, possibly, flows of contestable funding,'' he said in the report.


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