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Dream Large – But Not Too Large

30 April 2013

The University of Melbourne has retained top spot amongst Australian universities in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University rankings, and has jumped up to 28th spot in the world from 37th last year.

Despite this, in THE World Reputation Rankings, which look at opinion of universities rather than actual ranking position, the University of Melbourne was placed 39th, up from 43rd last year. While this ranking system has placed Melbourne first in Australia for the past four years, these ratings are not necessarily indicators of whether or not our university provides the best undergraduate courses.

THE World University Rankings are calculated using five criteria: teaching, research, citations, industry income, and international mix. The teaching criterion measures the learning environment of the university, and it focuses on both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Although this accounts for 30 percent of the final ranking, this is the only criterion that directly measures undergraduate study.

Professor Anne-Wil Harzing, a specialist in research performance metrics, believes that despite the ranking’s focus on research, Melbourne’s position is still relevant to undergraduate students. Harzing believes that the measure of quality research is important because “research also feeds into cutting edge teaching”, which is a tangible benefit for undergraduates. Similarly, “a university’s reputation is largely dependent on its research performance, and reputation helps graduates get jobs.”

If the reputation rankings alone were a greater measure of the worth of a University of Melbourne degree, our students could take comfort in the fact that we have been consistently ranked as having the highest reputation in Australia, and have moved three positions ahead of Australian National University in the past year.

In saying that, Professor Harzing stressed that we “should not attach huge significance to small changes in rankings over the years,” so this slight leap away from our rival in Canberra is nothing to write home about.


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