University Rankings – Room for Improvement?

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) is widely regarded as one of the most influential rankings of universities globally and is largely based on the research success of individual institutions.  However, if these rankings are relied upon by students when choosing between institutions, is it fair to use such a narrow criteria?  Wouldn’t the majority of prospective students be as interested in the quality of teaching and infrastructure that a university can provide as much as the vastness and quality of research output? 

Australia’s research success in the last decade has been rightly reflected in the assent up the rankings tables of a number of local institutions. With three Nobel Prizes since 2005, University of Western Australia, University of Melbourne and Australian National University have all made large advancements on the global rankings scale.  However, notwithstanding this success, perhaps the rankings have become out of touch with what is equally important; that is the quality of teaching. 

In a recent article titled ‘University ranking systems need revision’ (19/08/13) The Australian Financial Review notes that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is working on a possible solution it calls the Assessment of Higher Learning Outcomes (AHELO).  The OECD is attempting to uncover whether it is scientifically feasible to assess what higher education students ‘know and can do’ upon graduation as a new form of university ranking. Different to the traditional type of ranking, the AHELO assessment aims to be a direct evaluation of student performance at the global level and is valid across diverse cultures, languages and different types of institutions. As employers increasingly seek graduates who can immediately add value to their organisations, perhaps this new direction should be more widely supported.

Rohan Carr
September 2013

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