Summary: Despite being subject to much criticism, international university rankings are attracting more coverage, are proliferating, and appear to be here to stay. Most countries and universities at the very least monitor the results of the rankings when they are published. Many universities strive to improve their rankings.
In this study, we examine the performance of New Zealand universities in the ‘big three’ university rankings: the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).
In the high-profile QS ranking, there has been a downward trend in the rankings for the top-placed New Zealand universities. However, all of our universities are currently placed in the QS top 500, something not achieved by the Australian, Canadian or United Kingdom university systems. Also, the performance of New Zealand universities in the QS subject-level rankings tend to be higher than in other rankings.
In the THE and ARWU rankings, the picture was mixed. For example, the University of Auckland has remained relatively stable in both the ARWU and the THE rankings over time. While the University of Otago (and the University of Canterbury more recently) has been improving in the ARWU, Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) have dropped in ranking in recent years. Both of the latter universities have also exhibited recent falls in THE ranking.
We also compare the rankings of New Zealand universities with Australian universities. One New Zealand university, the University of Auckland, was placed among the Australian Group of Eight (G8) universities in all three rankings, while the University of Otago was placed just outside the G8, but above other Australian universities. The remaining listed New Zealand universities were generally spread among the remaining non-G8 universities.
The performance of the Australian universities in the rankings, especially the non-G8 universities, suggests that wider trends are impacting on the Australasian universities. For example, all the listed Australasian universities dropped in the QS rankings between 2007 and 2013. The rise of universities from Asian countries in the rankings is one factor in displacing the Australasian universities.