Executive Summary and Full 2016 Report

The key findings from the 2016 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems.

This report presents results for the 2016 Universitas 21 annual ranking of national systems of higher education and explains the methodology used to obtain the results. Our national ranking complements the plethora of rankings of institutions. The rationale for national rankings is that it is the higher education system as a whole, not only of research intensive universities, that matters for the economic and cultural development of a nation. Different institutions will contribute in different ways to achieving overall national objectives.

 Fifty national systems of higher education, from all continents, are evaluated on the basis of 25 attributes. Variables are standardised for population size. Countries are ranked overall and in each of four areas: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output. Resources, whether public or private, are a necessary condition of a well-functioning system of higher education but they are not sufficient: a well-designed policy environment is needed to ensure that resources are used well.   A consensus is emerging that the preferred environment is one where institutions are allowed considerable autonomy tempered by external monitoring and competition.  The Environment module measures the extent to which national systems meet these criteria.  

The Output measures encompass attributes such as participation rates, research performance, the existence of some world class universities, and employability of graduates.  There is a world-wide trend for governments to encourage institutions of higher education to strengthen relationships with business and the rest of the community. International links are also important for the transmission of knowledge.  Six such linkage measures are included in our Connectivity module.       

The highest ranked countries for Resources are Denmark, Singapore, the United States, Canada and Sweden.  The Environment for higher education is ranked best in the United States, Hong Kong SAR, Finland, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Switzerland is a clear leader in Connectivity followed by Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom. For the Output module, the United States is ranked first, followed by the United Kingdom; then follow a group of five countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. The results for each module are combined into an overall ranking using weights of 40 per cent for Resources and 20 per cent for each of the other three modules.  The top five countries in the overall ranking are, in order, the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Sweden. The largest improvement over the 2015 rankings is shown by China.

An important aim of our work is to permit countries to benchmark performance against other countries at similar stages of development.  In order to facilitate these comparisons, we present estimates of a country’s performance relative to its level of GDP per capita.  These adjusted estimates, based on deviations after regressing each series on GDP per capita, complement our main measures of performance. 

By examining the relationship between inputs (Resources and Environment) and Outcomes (Output and Connectivity) our data provide measures of productivity and insights into ways of improving outcomes. We find that our input modules explain around two-thirds of the variation in outcomes.  Similar strong causality is found when looking at the effect of research funding and the policy environment on research outcomes.