Australia’s reputation grows but empires still rule

Three Australian universities have ranked in the top 50 of the world’s best universities by reputation. In the inaugural reputation rankings last year the University of Melbourne was the only one in Australia to make the top 50, it was ranked then at 45. This year it moves up two places in the 2012 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings and is listed at 43. Moving into the top 50 this year is the Australian National University at 44 and the University of Sydney at number 50.
There was little surprise in the list of the world’s top 10 “by reputation” institutions. Seven US and two of the UK’s high-status colleges were there along with Japan’s University of Toyko which was ranked at number eight. Harvard University was ranked first in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, second, the University of Cambridge third and Stanford was fourth. The University of California, Berkeley followed at number five and the University of Oxford was at six. Princeton University was next, then the University of Tokyo. The University of California, Los Angeles was ninth and Yale was listed as number 10.
The rankings are based on a survey of 17,554 academics from 137 countries. The survey asked academics to nominate up to 15 of the “best” institutions in their field of expertise, based on their experience and knowledge. The overall measure of their esteem combines data on their reputation for research and teaching. In a media statement Melbourne’s vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said it was a tribute to the university’s teaching staff and researchers that it had managed to improve on last year’s performance in the reputation rankings. Melbourne has done well in other Times rankings, it was ranked 37th in the world and top in Australia in the Times’ annual World University Rankings last year.Melbourne, Sydney and ANU were not the only three in Australia to move up the reputation rankings this year. If you look at the top 100 universities by reputation, the University of Queensland is now listed in the 71-80 band. Last year UQ was in the 81-90 band.
While the top 100 universities by reputation are listed, after the top 50 the second group of 50 institutions are listed in bands of 10, because the differentials between institutions after the top 50 become very narrow, THE explained.UQ vice-chancellor Professor Debbie Terry said UQ’s listing in the top 100 universities of the world by reputation in teaching and research reflected the hard work undertaken by the university community.
Phil Baty, editor of THE Rankings, said: “Only 100 universities are listed in our prestigious World Reputation Rankings – that is around 0.5 per cent of the world’s higher education institutions. In an analysis of the results Baty said that for a chosen few, life was sweet. “Clear evidence of an elite Anglo-American cadre of six global university ‘super-brands’ has emerged from the second annual rankings, which are based on a worldwide opinion poll of more than 17,500 academics.”
The six occupy what one expert describes as “a special zone beyond ordinary competition”, riding well ahead of the chasing pack and reaping the multiple rewards associated with being the world’s best in teaching and research.The gap between the top six and the rest, led by seventh-placed Princeton University, is marked – and has widened since last year, Baty noted.
Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, is quoted in the analysis of the results. He said the reputation rankings were based on the informed opinion of senior academics; some “household-name” institutions could transcend direct sector knowledge and hard performance data. “A stellar reputation of the kind enjoyed by Harvard or Oxford, which sustains those institutions at the centre of the social fabric, like the church in medieval times, places them in a special zone beyond ordinary competition,” said Marginson. “It is hardly objective or fair, but it is real and cannot be wished away.” 

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