Why rankings are more than just number

University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle prides itself on providing world-class education to the region and we aim to create life-ready graduates. One of the ways we measure ourselves to see how well we are performing is by participating in university world rankings, a topic discussed in recent weeks. Rankings can sometimes feel like just another number however, their meaning lies much deeper.


Professor Jennifer Milam smiling, wearing black blouse, hair pulled back in front of white wall

While not perfect, rankings are a widely accepted and accessible way of measuring how we compare to other institutions around the world. They provide a standardised benchmark that can measure global performance and various aspects of our work including our research, teaching, reputation, and initiatives. High-quality teaching is another element of our work that we see as critical to being a leading university. We use the rankings to know where we perform highly and where we can focus our attention to improve.

In Australia alone there are 39 universities, and there are thousands more around the globe, so the rankings help students, as just one example, to understand areas of expertise, priorities and strengths before selecting where to study. International recognition also helps us attract high-calibre academics, students, partners and collaborators, and opens doors around the world for our people, including our alumni.

The methodology behind rankings is complex and while our QS rankings recently received criticism for the methodology, the different criteria used by ranking systems are created to compare all universities on a level playing field. Each ranking system provides us with a set of criteria to calculate factors like our number of students, the quality of journal articles, and the reputation of a university that we must follow for our submission.

Sustainability is one area where the University is focussed on making a difference and last weeks’ Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, demonstrate how rankings allow us to benchmark ourselves. These rankings reflect the excellence and impact of our research, partnerships, education, and outreach activities that support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – aimed at solving complex global problems, as we strive together for a better future.

Our results show that we are doing our part in these global endeavours. We received an overall score of 93.8 out of 100. In Australia we ranked in the top ten in the country for 13 of the 17 SDGs, including ranking No.1 in Australia for SDG2 Zero Hunger and SDG17 Partnerships for the Goals, which is a fantastic achievement.

Our overall score for Partnership for the Goals was 99.7 out of 100, demonstrating we are doing exceptionally well in this area. We include sustainability principles in our values, research, teaching and the facilities we provide, and these results show how deeply ingrained these principles are in our work.

I am incredibly proud that our university is making a positive difference to our region and the world and these results are a clear demonstration that we continue to lead on sustainability both in Australia and internationally.

Initiatives like introducing 100% renewable energy and committing to being carbon neutral by 2025 have strongly resonated with our students and with our communities and I am honoured to be working for a university that has these values at the core of its work and is making real changes to achieving these goals.

The QS rankings, which were released last month, measure how our research and teaching stacks up. These rankings use a range of metrics to measure the quality of the research we produce, our collaboration with other experts and universities, and the reputation for excellence that we hold with academics and employers around the world.

Our performance in the QS subject rankings tells us that we are on track with achieving our goal of being a top 250 university in the world, as measured externally through international rankings, and that we should not shy away from a more ambitious target of being top 10 in Australia and top 100 in the world in everything that we do.

Success with rankings supports academic recruitment of both staff and students, industry and government engagement, and peer perception of expertise in our subject areas.

We are certainly on an upward trajectory with more success to follow.

Success, however, is not in the improved rankings in and of themselves, but what they reflect through their indicators: the quality and impact of research at the University of Newcastle; the reputation of our programs and researchers; and student satisfaction with a world-class educational experience.

Professor Jennifer Milam is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Excellence)

This article originally appeared in the Newcastle Herald

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