Sydney’s top universities slip in rankings as Asia’s institutions rise

Sydney’s top universities slid slightly but other Australia’s sandstone institutions climbed in the latest world rankings, as Asian universities – particularly those from China – continued their climb, driven by heavy public investment in higher education.

Sydney University slipped seven places to 58th on the Times Higher Education rankings, released on Thursday, and the University of NSW slipped three places to 70th, while the University of Technology Sydney continued its rise by 17 places to 143rd.

Melbourne University remained Australia’s top institution at 33rd, a fall of two places, while the University of Queensland climbed five places to 54th and Monash climbed to 57th. Sydney was the fifth-placed Australian university and UNSW was sixth.

Sydney University slipped seven places to 58th.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

For the sixth straight year, Oxford University is the world’s premier institution, followed by four American Universities. China’s Peking and Tsinghua Universities both climbed significantly to joint 16th from 23rd and 20th respectively, which analysts said was due in part to their work on coronavirus.

Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong had their best results since the new methodology was introduced in 2016; Hong Kong recorded its highest-ever number of universities in the top 100.

There are also a record number of Chinese universities in the top 200, including Wuhan University. The Chinese government is investing heavily in universities, and as its higher education sector grows, more Chinese students will consider domestic study as an alternative to studying overseas.

Phil Baty, the chief knowledge officer at Times Higher Education, said the world’s elite universities have had a stronghold over the highest positions due to their historic reputation, status and reliable income.

However, “our data shows us that there are clear shifts happening across higher education around the world,” he said. “We are already seeing clear disruption to the established norms from mainland China, and record highs for Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong show that Asia is continuing to benefit from the focus and investment in higher education across the continent.

“In the coming years it will be interesting to see whether the US, UK and other world-leading higher education systems can respond to the challenges of Covid-19, including attracting international academic and student talent, and a possibly serious impact on already stretched funding, to hold on to their positions at the very top of the table.”

Australia’s universities were hit hard by COVID-19, with a reduction in international student revenue affecting research funding at many of them. However, many international universities were in a similar position, and this impact is unlikely to be seen in university rankings for several years.

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