Big power shift puts NSW on list of top 100 unis

AUSTRALIAN universities have improved their position in the latest higher education rankings, with the University of NSW making its first appearance in the top 100 universities internationally.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings report, released today, shows Australia has six universities in the top 100, up from four last year.

The University of Melbourne leads the Australian institutions, followed by the Australian National University, the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, UNSW and Monash. NSW institutions to appear in the top 400 include Macquarie University, the University of Newcastle, the University of Wollongong and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Phil Baty, editor of the rankings report, said Australia's strong performance was part of a wider trend showing that institutions in the Asia-Pacific are gaining ground on the US and Britain.

''Australia is really starting to benefit from the power shift from the West to the East in higher education - it has great advantages being close to the exciting innovation and research hotspots in Asia,'' he said.

''If it can fully exploit the geographical advantage it has over Europe and North America, there's every reason to believe it can be part of a real higher education revolution in Asia-Pacific.''

Of the eight Australian universities in the top 200, six improved their positions. A new measure which tracks the average movement of the top 200 institutions in each country shows that Australia had the third-biggest ranking improvement in the world, with its top 200 institutions rising an average of 15 places.

The rankings are based on 13 performance indicators, and Mr Baty said the improvement in Australian institutions was due to better scores for research efforts.

''It looks to me as if all the universities which are rising up in Australia have seen considerable improvements to their research quality,'' he said. ''Your Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative has perhaps focused Australian universities on the importance of research as a driver of competition.''

The focus on research has also put pressure on academics, with the University of Sydney threatening under-performing staff with redundancy earlier this year in an effort to save $25 million.

But Australian institutions have been spared the savage public funding cuts experienced in Britain, the US and Canada.

The Universities Australia chief executive, Belinda Robinson, said the federal government should take note of how funding affects performance.

''The declining performance of other countries' universities serves as a warning of just how swift the impact of ill-conceived public policies can be at a time when global competition in the sector has seldom been greater,'' she said. ''It underlines the importance of continuing public support and investment in universities.''

The UNSW director of communications, Judy Brookman, said the university's debut in the top 100 could be explained by improved data collection which more accurately reflected its performance.

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