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US tops U21 global HE system rankings for ninth year

The US has topped the Universitas 21 national higher education systems rankings for the ninth consecutive year, with Switzerland, Denmark, Singapore and Sweden rounding out the top five. The UK was shown to have dropped from third place overall in 2019 to sixth position.

Universitas 21The second of the report's two rankings adjusted for income levels in the surveyed countries. Photo: Pixabay

The 2020 rankings saw the US remain the only country to take the top spot in the list’s history

U21 – a group of research-intensive universities around the world that collaborate on issues related to universities and global education – analysed individual countries’ tertiary education through 24 performance measures.

The UK fell from third to sixth compared to last year

Released earlier this month, the 2020 rankings saw the US remain the only country to take the top spot in the list’s history.

The US ranked first overall through its combines ranking of one for ‘environment’, one for ‘output’, 10 for ‘resources’ and 13 for ‘connectivity’.

“Links with the private sector are strong: knowledge transfer is rated third and joint scientific publications 20th,” noted the report’s authors.

However, as is expected for other large countries, the percentage of publications that are joint with international authors ranks much lower at 38.

“Although the US has the largest absolute number of international students, as a share of its total students it ranks only 23rd. It ranks first for the number of times external users access websites of tertiary institutions even when adjusted for population.”

The UK fell from third to sixth compared to last year, although in most places the ranking remained relatively stable.

Turkey rose three places to 39th due to an increase in government expenditure on higher education. The largest drop was Slovakia, which dropped five places due to decreases in funding. The Czech Republic also fell three spots.

“National systems that are inward-looking flounder. An important finding was the strong relationship between increases in research funding and measurable increases in research performance after three or four years,” said lead author Ross Williams of the University of Melbourne.

“The project has demonstrated that international connectivity (joint co-authorship  etc.) increases the impact of research. Knowledge of the research is expanded; the researchers become better known and are thus linked into new international research projects and findings. By linking outcomes to inputs, measures of efficiency have been developed.”

“An important finding was the strong relationship between increases in research funding and measurable increases in research performance”

The report offers two rankings. An overall one and one adjusted for GDP, which helps to monitor the priority of education when it comes to what resources are allocated to the sector by governments. The score is calculated by percentage changes, with anything above -7% being considered more than what would be expected for that country’s income level.

This adjusted metric found that South Africa and Malaysia had expenditures of over 30% more than what would be expected for their income levels.

Overall, large improvements in the rankings when adjusted for income are seen for India, Serbia, South Africa, Brazil and Ukraine, all of which improve by 20 places or more.

Portugal, Iran, Croatia, China and Finland also all improve by between seven and 10 places. The largest fall is Saudi Arabia, while the US is still measured as performing above average but drops to 18th. Singapore drops to 23rd.

Ireland ranked 19th overall but also fell substantially in the adjusted rankings.

“The findings of the U21 Report are unsurprising. We continue to perform and deliver excellent output in terms of quality graduates and research and our international position reflects this effort,” said president of University College Dublin, Andrew Deeks.

“However, the poor ranking of 46 out of 50 for resources is further confirmation of other international data measures.

“The OECD places Ireland 32nd out of 34 countries in terms of total expenditure as a percentage of GDP and notes the gulf between Ireland and countries such as Norway, Austria, Finland and Netherlands in terms of government investment in tertiary education.”

However, the report does note that the country may be disadvantaged by the use of GDP over Gross National Income.

“The U21 Rankings leave a highly important legacy in understanding the impact of national policies on our universities”

David Eastwood, chair of U21, additionally announced that this was the final year of the U21 Ranking Project.

“These longitudinal data provide vital insights into which countries are making the greatest improvements in higher education outcomes, what they are doing to achieve this, and what might be done to improve the higher education sector in countries falling behind,” he said.

“U21 is proud to have supported the report’s author, Ross Williams, and his colleagues over the past nine years and we wish him well in his retirement.

“The U21 Rankings leave a highly important legacy in understanding the impact of national policies on our universities and in international higher education.”

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