Australian universities have taken a hit in the latest survey of global brand awareness, possibly due to last year’s federal budget cuts.
As a country, Australia has slipped from third to equal fourth on the prestige index.
We have five institutions in the 2014 Times Higher Education reputation rankings released on Thursday, down from six in 2013 with Monash University slipping out of the top 100.
Melbourne University is still leading the local pack but it fell to 43 on the table (from 39 in 2013).
Indeed, all Australian universities lost ground in 2014, with Melbourne now the only institution in the top 50 after the Australian National University and Sydney University both tumbled into the 61-70 bracket (from 42 and 49 respectively).
Queensland University is now in the 81-90 bracket, while the University of New South Wales is in the 91-100 grouping.
With five universities in the top 100, Australia is equal fourth with Japan on the country table behind the United States (with a massive 46 ranked institutions), the United Kingdom (10) and Germany (six).
“It was a genuinely surprising result this year as we saw Australia as a whole slipping down the table,” Times Higher Education rankings editor Phil Baty told AAP.
He thinks Australia’s poor performance could be due to the May 2013 budget cuts announced in the middle of the survey period.
Labor’s 2013/14 budget included $2.3 billion worth of cuts from universities via an efficiency dividend, converting student scholarships to loans and scrapping discounts for early HECS payments.
Times Higher Education can’t know for sure, however, because the brand rankings are based on the subjective opinions of 10,000 researchers from around the world.
“(However) right at the very time people were being asked to evaluate universities around the world there was a fairly dramatic piece of news coming out of Australia with negative implications,” Baty said.
In worrying news, the editor thinks the cuts, when implemented, could impact on Australian universities’ actual performance, further harming their brand reputation in years to come.
The prestige index is based on an opinion poll of invited senior, published academics from 133 countries.
It looks at reputation only, whereas the Times’ world rankings, released every October, uses 13 objective performance indicators.
Overall, the US is the undisputed superpower when it comes to branding, with the top three places in 2014 going to Harvard, MIT and Stanford.
US universities fill eight of the top 10 places and 46 of the top 100. Private funding has allowed these institutions to thrive despite the financial crisis and austerity measures.
“The rich private universities have huge endowments and huge tuition fees and are able to weather economic storms because they are not as dependent on government funding,” Baty said.
“Of those small number of American universities that are falling they are overwhelming concentrated in the public sector.”
The full tables are available at timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings.