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Analysing value for money and student experience with US News Ranking – 2015 (Australia and New Zealand)

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While in the United States the US News University Rankings are often taken with more than just a pinch of salt, abroad they often represent an important sense of recognition and an opportunity to recruit international students. This is certainly the case with Australia and New Zealand, together classified as a ‘region’ by US News and therefore given the opportunity to test their merits on the world stage rather than in their usual category of Oceania. Having conducted university-sector research for the last 30 years, the team behind the US News Rankings are used to hearing criticism leveled at their methodology and ever-fluctuating metrics. Never keen to shy away from their populist image, US News Rankings first and foremost measures value for money, the student experience, and international reputation.

Australia has found itself with 19 of its institutions in the US News top 500, with the University of Melbourne taking the top ‘regional’ spot, and 32nd place overall. It was certainly a pleasing result for the country that also managed to find 6 of its universities placed in the world top 100. Many leading commentators, as well as university leaders, drew attention to the perceived validity of the methodology in the country, drawing attention to the 30 percent weighting on academic reputation sourced from tens of thousands of peer-circulated surveys, while others remained ambivalent to the news.

Australian and New Zealand students and parents, and international students hoping to make a jaunt down under, can split the US News metrics into a number of constituent fields. The top 10, with global positioning indicated in brackets is:

(32) University of Melbourne, Australia
(45) University of Sydney Australia
(47) University of Queensland Australia
(72) Australian National University Australia
(88) Monash University Australia
(94) University of New South Wales Australia
(113) University of Western Australia
(173) University of Auckland New Zealand
(191) University of Adelaide Australia
(243) University of Otago New Zealand

While the coalition of Australian universities known as the Group of Eight comprise the only eight Australian institutions in the top 10, further insights into national trends can be seen outside of the top flight. Wollongong University fared well in the field of Material Science, University of Technology, Sydney for their Economics programme, James Cook University in Ecology, and Curtin University for their Applied Geology department. Taking the top spot in New Zealand was the much-feted University of Auckland, which holds a similar position to the Times Higher Education rankings, but much lower compared to the QS Rankings.

Yet criticism for the questionable methodology of the US News rankings has even come from a faculty member of the triumphant University of Melbourne. Professor Williams from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research believes that Australian and New Zealand universities achieved such success because US News measures global and regional reputation in unbalanced ways. As such, the curious classification of the two Pacific Ocean countries as a region unto themselves demonstrates a sense of bias towards English-speaking institutions. Williams also noted that the rankings prioritise success in the sciences, leaving universities with strong humanities offerings in the wilderness.