Australia has just 2 universities left in the top 100 as closed borders threaten future funding

The University of Melbourne has once more been ranked as Australia’s best.(Jeff Greenberg, Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • The University of Melbourne and University of Sydney were again ranked as Australia’s best universities on Monday.
  • Maintaining their places at number 63 and 98 on the global rankings respectively, most other Australian institutions lost ground on previous years, according to the Centre for World University Rankings (CWUR)
  • With fewer international students able to study in-country, many institutions are feeling the heat as funding from tuition shrinks.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Universities in Australia are slipping in international standing, with the number of top 100 universities halving in the space of two years.

In the latest rankings published on Monday, Melbourne University once again secured country’s highest place, coming in at number 63. The University of Sydney (USYD) meanwhile was ranked at number 98, again just scrapping into the top 100.

It marks no improvement for either institutes, mimicking last year’s Centre for World University Rankings (CWUR) results.

Looking more broadly, it’s clear that many of the country’s universities are losing ground after appearing to peak three years ago. In 2018, four universities cracked the top 100 with both Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Queensland (UQ) coming in at 82 or better.

“The concern is that Australia is struggling to compete against rivals worldwide, with more universities going down than up. In the global top 2000, 16 universities from Australia improve from last year, with 3 maintaining their spots, and 20 falling down the rankings,” the CWUR said.

China for one has managed to land an extra 10 universities in the top 2000 this year, while more established institutions in the United States and United Kingdom continue to decline as well, despite dominating the very top of the list.

Australian universities might not occupy the pointy end of it but they do continue to drop further down the list. This year, UQ fell from 106th to place 109th with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) falling back to 114. ANU took out 125, Monash ranked at 128, and University of Western Australia finished at 156, placing seven within the top 200. Of those, only Monash actually improved its position from last year.

Beyond that, the University of Adelaide (213), the University of Technology Sydney (379), Griffith University (390) and University of Wollongong (396) all improved their rankings with UTS climbing 23 whole places. Curtin University (363), Macquarie (380), Deakin (388), and the University of Newcastle (398) all tumbled.

The rankings are collated by assessing each university on the quality of education they provide, high-level employment of alumni, the quality of faculties and the research they produce.

Digging into each Australian universities’ scores, it’s clear that each depends heavily on the last of those measures to give them a major boost. Melbourne and Sydney both rank among top universities when it comes to research with UQ, UNSW and Monash also punching above their weight.

It’s no wonder that this has become the focus of institutions. Making up a disproportionate 40% of their overall score, universities are incentivised to spend heavily on research to maintain or improve their place to the detriment of student facilities or the classroom experience.

With much of that funding in Australia coming from international student fees, and especially Chinese students, the scorecard has been criticised for effectively turning foreign students into “cash cows”.

Closed borders have now shut off that critical source of income for institutions. Threatening to pull as much as $500 million out of individual universities like USYD and Melbourne, it’s unclear whether some will be able to lavish quite so much on their research arms in order to remain globally competitive, at least in terms of world rankings.

The other aspects of the scoreboard are certainly less kind to Australian universities. Not a single one is in the top 100 for education, although this is measured by “the number of a university’s alumni who have won major academic distinctions relative to the university’s size”.

The employment metric similarly only counts those alumni who have held top executive positions in the world’s largest companies. On that front, the University of New South Wales ranks highest for Australia at 111th.

Such a dynamic simply may not see up Australia’s universities for much future success, at least as far as rankings are concerned.