2017 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems

05 May 2017
The 2017 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems has been announced, click for full details

The Universitas 21 Ranking is the only one in the world to assess national higher education systems, and meets a longstanding need to shift discussion from the ranking of the world’s best universities, to the best overall systems. The essential logic behind the development of national rankings is that it is the higher education system as a whole, not just research intensive universities, that matters for the economic and cultural development of a nation.  It has been developed as a benchmark for governments, education institutions and individuals, and aims to highlight the importance of:

 

  • Creating a strong environment for higher education institutions to contribute to economic and cultural development
  • Providing a high-quality experience for students
  • Helping institutions to compete for overseas applicants

 

The first Ranking report was published in May 2012 and this is now the fifth iteration.  The 2017 Ranking includes the same 50 countries as in previous reports, which have again been ranked separately by four areas and also given an overall rating.  Population size is accounted for in the calculations.

Aggregating to obtain an overall ranking, the top ten countries are:

 

Overall Rank in 2017

Country

Rank in 2016

1

United States of America

1

2

Switzerland

2

3

United Kingdom

4

4

Denmark

3

5

Sweden

5

6

Singapore

8

7

Canada

9

8

Netherlands

7

9

Finland

6

10

Australia

10

 

Using weights of 40 per cent on Output and 20 per cent on each of the other three modules, the top five countries, in order, are the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.  The only change from the 2016 rankings is that Denmark and the United Kingdom have swapped positions.  The next five countries are Singapore (up two to sixth), Canada (up two to seventh), the Netherlands (down one to eighth), Finland (down three to ninth) and Australia unchanged at tenth. 

Systems evolve slowly over time, compared with the 2016 rankings, for 33 of our 50 countries the rank change was at most one.  The largest changes have been Ukraine, up seven places to 35th, and Turkey, up five places to 40th.  The largest fall in rank is Brazil: down four places to 42nd.

 

 

Trends

Annual changes in the performance of national systems of higher education are likely to be modest, at least in an upward direction.  While a system can face significant deterioration in a short period of time due to factors such as political disturbances, major improvement will normally take a few years.  It is therefore instructive to use our time-series of rankings to examine trends over several years.  We do this by comparing the results for the Output module over the last five rankings: 2013 to 2017.  However, the changes reflect a longer period because in the 2013 and 2014 rankings we used a five-year average for the three research measures (O1, O2, O3).

 

The countries showing the largest improvement have been Saudi Arabia (up 12 places) and Malaysia (up 7 places).  Both countries have in recent years devoted considerable additional resources to higher education.  The other noticeable improvers have been Singapore, South Africa and Russia (all up six places) and China (up five places).  Australia, Croatia and Denmark have all improved four places.   Ukraine, not surprisingly given its political difficulties, shows the largest fall, down ten places.  New Zealand is down six places; Bulgaria and Romania down five.  Six countries have fallen by four ranks: Canada, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Taiwan-China, and Turkey. These changes of course reflect relative system performance, not absolute or necessarily institutional performance.  This is well illustrated by the fall in New Zealand’s rank which is due primarily to falls in the ranks for qualification of the workforce (O7) and number of researchers (O8). The increase in the percentage of the population aged 25-64 years with a tertiary qualification has not matched the increase of nine percentage points in the median value for our 50 countries.  

As in 2016, this data has also been compared against the values expected at each country’s level of economic development, to create a second and separate set of ranking results:

 

GDP Adjusted Rank in 2017

Country

Rank in 2016

1

Serbia

2

2

United Kingdom

1

3

South Africa

7

4

Denmark

=3

5

Sweden

=3

6

Finland

6

7

New Zealand

=9

8

Portugal

8

9

Israel

11

10

Australia

14

 

Using this adjustment, the top three countries in rank order are Serbia, the United Kingdom and South Africa.  These are followed by three of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Sweden and Finland.  Compared with the original rankings in Section 3, nine countries improve their ranking by at least twelve places.  These countries, in order of the ranking improvement, are Serbia, South Africa, India, Portugal, China, Brazil, Ukraine, Croatia and Greece.   In several of these countries real income growth has been low or negative in which case some stickiness in higher education performance will translate into an improvement in the GDP-adjusted rankings.

 

The four more detailed areas of comparison are:

Resources (expenditure  by government and private sector on teaching and research )

The highest ranked countries for Resources are Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland and the USA, in that order. Compared with the 2016 rankings the largest improvers are Ukraine, Turkey and Chile.  Ukraine has improved eight places to 18th owing to the availability of more reliable data for government expenditure.  Turkey has risen by seven places to 22nd, owing to an increase in both public and private expenditure. Chile has risen five places to 28th with public expenditure rising from 0.59 per cent of GDP to 0.97 per cent, albeit offset by a fall in private expenditure. Countries with greatest falls in rank are Argentina, Iran, the Czech Republic and New Zealand. Argentina has fallen eight places to 44th following relative reductions in both government and private expenditure.

  

Output (research and its impact, quality of the best institutions, and the production of an educated workforce which meets labour market needs)

The top country in the output module is clearly the United States. The United Kingdom is second.  Australia is third followed by near equal scores for Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.  These top seven countries retain the same ranks as in the 2016 rankings.  Lower down in the rankings, Croatia has risen six places to 34th and Argentina has improved five places to 36th.   Chile and Turkey have each fallen six places to 41st and 44th respectively.

  

Connectivity (international networks and collaboration with industry)

The top five nations in rank order are Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands.  The greatest fall is that of Indonesia: by nine places to 41st owing to a reduction in papers jointly written with international collaboration (C2).  But, more broadly, joint international publications continue to increase in importance: the only other countries to show a (small) decline from values in last year’s rankings are Russia and South Africa. 

  

Environment (government policy and regulation, financial autonomy and diversity)

The top-ranked countries in the Environment module are the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong-SAR.  The new wider definition of diversity has led to some marked changes in rank: Canada has risen 14 places to 20th whereas he Czech Republic has fallen 13 places to 33rd.  Israel has risen 14 places to 18th owing to both the new measure of diversity and an improvement in the response of business as measured by the WEF survey (E5).  Romania has fallen to 30th owing to both the new measure of diversity and a fall in the WEF survey score.

  

The research authors, based at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, looked at 25 measures across these four areas, allowing them to create a very detailed picture of the higher education system in each country. 

Speaking on the launch of this year’s rankings, Lead author, Professor Ross Williams at the University of Melbourne, said: “It is noticeable that in the countries where the higher education sector has shown the largest improvements in output over the six years of our ranking, government policy has been well thought out, congruent with national aims, and implemented on a consistent basis over an extended period of time.”               

Professor Bairbre Redmond, U21’s Provost, also commented: “The U21 Rankings, offering an important, ‘whole-nation’ perspective on higher education performance, is now in its sixth year. The 2017 U21 Rankings show further enhancement in their approach to data collection and analysis, which allow countries to benchmark performance over a range of attributes, comparing strengths and challenges in different areas of their higher educational activities. Universitas 21 is very pleased to continue to support the publication of these valuable data to the benefit of national policy makers, commentators and all those who are interested in the contexts within which universities operate.”

 

Ranking report and data: 

www.universitas21.com/link/rankings

 

Interactive map: 

www.universitas21.com/ranking/map

 

Data Comparison tool:

The site also contains a data comparison tool, which allows users to directly compare the overall ranking and individual measure results from all countries over the years.

www.universitas21.com/ranking