Real rankings of Australian universities for international students

Yesterday, Australia’s mainstream media was buzzing with the news that seven of Australia’s universities are ranked in the top 100 universities globally. The below graphic, courtesy of The Australian, shows which universities made the cut:

These rankings are important to universities because they are used to market themselves overseas. A higher ranking equates to more prestige and acts as an attractive tool to encourage international students to choose their institution of another, as well as justify charging higher fees.

Indeed, each of the Group of Eight universities shown above have experienced sharp increases in the share of commencing international students:

One downside is that the explosion in international students, and students more broadly, has generally not been matched with commensurate increases in academic (teaching) staff. As noted yesterday, Australia’s universities as a whole have chosen to spend much of their international student revenue windfall on boosting their administration staff:

In 2009, there were 35,817 full-time equivalent (FTE) academic staff at Australia’s universities compared with 58,167 non-academic staff – a difference of 22,350.

But in 2017, FTE academic staff had grown to 44,057 compared with growth in non-academic staff to 69,557 – a difference of 25,500.

Reflecting the above, the ratio of students (both international and domestic) to academic staff has increased significantly across Australia’s universities, from 20.05 in 2009 to 21.44 in 2017:

This is concerning given the rapid growth in international students, of whom are primarily from non-English speaking backgrounds and, therefore, require higher maintenance than domestic students. In turn, the increase in student-to-academic staff ratios implies that teaching staff are being placed under increased pressure, thereby eroding education standards for students.

With this background in mind, I have charted student-to-academic staff ratios across Australia’s top 100 ranked universities (and nationally) between 2009 and 2017. This is intended to give a broad indicator of quality across these institutions, with a lower ratio obviously preferred to a higher ratio:

As you can see, there is much variation across these institutions, with Queensland University having by far the worst ratio and ANU by far the best.

Moreover, there has been significant change over time. Queensland University, Monash University, University of WA, Melbourne University and University of NSW have all experienced meaningful increases in their student-to-academic staff ratios since 2009. By contrast, ANU’s ratio has actually decreased significantly, whereas Sydney University’s is basically flat.

If a quality educational experience is sought, prospective students should be sceptical about studying at Queensland University, given the rapid lift in the number of students compared with academic staff. By contrast, ANU and Sydney University look like safer bets.

That said, all of the top-100 universities presented above, other than Queensland University, had lower student-to-academic staff ratios than the national average, suggesting that quality is generally even lower at the second tier universities.

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  1. Scummo might be running the unis better than Tanya “let everyone into uni” Plibersek would have:

    English language course providers that enable international students’ entry into the Australian education system will be probed by the regulator to ensure they are complying with strengthened standards.

    The providers will be scrutinised for their compliance with national standards that were tightened from 2018, requiring proper measures to demonstrate students’ outcomes are adequate for the higher education programs they are entering.

    Do not trust the providers. Order every foreign “student” to pass the English exam under strict supervision in Australia before they are let into an Aussie “uni”.

    • @Jacob those are ELICOS providers who are only registered to deliver non-award English language courses to overseas students. The real issue is TEQSA the Federal regulator, has no will to enforce the quality standards that apply to Higher Education provider’s or prosecute providers where the evidence demonstrates systemic and critical breaches of the relevant legislation which govern them, it’s a classic case of regulatory capture.

  2. The whole thing is a giant fraud, wait til stories about salaried academic research staff, not spending time doing research, rather running side businesses of renovating, then flipping rental properties start coming out.

    • Academics barely have time to scratch their arses after being buried in teaching and administration duties, let alone even think about flipping houses. It’d be the managerial class of the university system who’d be deep into that.

  3. Mostly the English language standards are enough to get by. The young man from the Kingdom of Bhutan who ran into the back of me yesterday was able to say “no insurance, car new” and “I pay, I pay”. Granted he was no Oscar Wilde…

  4. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Youse guys just can’t accept how great our universities are and importing fresh studious types from overseas have made our university stronger, smarter (locals aren’t the brightest) and way more vibrant. If I was of university age I’d love it and would, as usual, be using all this to my advantage to profit off the new vibrants and to score many relations with them by tutoring them in Australian ways of profit maximisations. So much potential, OR, you could be a Jacob. You choose which life to live.

    • LOL, you have great wisdom, reusa.

      Unfortunately, one needs three things to capitalize on an opportunity and not everyone has them: First, one needs foresight to spot an emerging opportunity. Then, one needs courage to act. Finally, one needs capital to deploy.

      • reusachtigeMEMBER

        It is true that some people cannot have relations without deploying a lot of capital but in this case all one needs is manhood.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      Mind you, on the subject of profit maximization it would probably be better not to buy a high rise. The minor irritation there is that when they crumble or BBQ without warning it’s currently the new owner’s fault. That seems entirely reasonable of course. After all, if you bought a new car and a wheel fell off before you got it home it would naturally be your fault wouldn’t it?
      Advance the Rum Corps fair…. Setka for president! He’ll fix it.

    • why choose? why not both? Hi flow shower heads ARE compatible with relations parties.

    • If you happen to be in Melbourne with a few hours to kill and it is Semester time; catch a tram to the main (Parkville) campus of the University of Melbourne and have a look around. Asian vibrants outnumber local students by at least 5 to 1.
      Most local students actually don’t bother or don’t need to come onto campus as their lectures and course materials are available online and there are nowhere near enough study spaces on campus for students.
      I could go on and on but there is really no point.
      As far as the “University Student Experience” goes, it peaked somewhere in the early to mid 2000’s and has been on a downward slide ever since. I have worked in the sector for a number of years, have around 10 years to go and frankly can’t wait to get out.

  5. Hanno Son of Bomilcar

    uni ranking indexes mostly measure research output, something no student gives an f about. they dont or barely consider teaching quality, student experience, future employability etc. theyre the same as city livability indexes, regularly cited and used to market to ignorant ppl who arent even aware how theyre calculated. u-melb which tops 2 of the 3 big uni ranking indexes has the worst student employment outcomes in australia.

  6. Just my experience but for what it is worth.
    If you’re hiring top 25% of students from these top 10 universities than you have absolutely nothing to worry about, the quality of top graduates is as good as they ever was.
    If you’re hiring bottom 25% graduates from lesser know universities, than you really need to ask yourself why you require a Bachelors degree for the positions you are trying to fill.
    From my experience the cream always raises to the top, it’s easy to recognize and can be easily scraped off, whats left at the bottom ..well that’s best left at the bottom.

    • rob barrattMEMBER

      I thought it was the scum that floated to the surface Fisho? Mind you, I’m easily confused nowadays..

    • drsmithyMEMBER

      If you’re hiring bottom 25% graduates from lesser know universities, than you really need to ask yourself why you require a Bachelors degree for the positions you are trying to fill.

      Because it makes it simple to eliminate hundreds or thousands of applicants from the “short” list.

  7. Based on discussions a few months back with the dean of engineering for a top 10 university.
    The escalation in Student to Academic ratios is the direct result of our over priced Real estate market. Basically the university just can’t hire high quality academics from elsewhere in the world because they just can’t afford to live in Sydney. That means they’re restricted to Organically growing their Academic staff while student numbers double. Maybe they should restrict student growth and forgo revenue but as I said above the quality of their top students is still world class nobody is judging them on the quality of the bottom 25%.

    • Top students will always be good – even if the unis teach nothing at all – because top students will figure out how to learn themselves. Which begs the question; should the unis be judged not by the quality of the graduates but by the value added? But then how can one measure it? Or should the ability of a uni to attract top students be recognized as a part of its KPI?

      • I don’t agree. From my experience, those who aspire to achieve Excellence actively seek out Excellence in others and in the Institutions that they associate with. They are definitely not satisfied if their aspirations can not be met within their chosen Academic environment.
        As an example Martin Green at UNSW became globally famous for Solar Cell research and in turn attracted the some of the best semiconductor minds from around the world to UNSW…I doubt there’s a single Solar cell company in the world that doesn’t have a couple of Martin’s graduates in their Research and in their corporate Management departments.
        It’s really a case of Like attracting Like the outcome of which is global excellence.

  8. One of the problems with staff:student ratios is that it is hard to separate research staff and teaching staff. Some of the unis with modest research output will provide the best undergrad teaching experience and those with the most research intense outputs (high ranking) may well be the worst.

    Developing an index that tracks the impact of a university internationally v domestically has to tease apart and consider a couple of difficult issues, one being that the entire point of the Australian tertiary sector is to educate Australians and provide a vehicle for research output that benefits Australia. It’s not clear to me how this is measures by the current raft of rankings on offer that treat tertiary education as a global commodity.

    If we seriously believed that an Australian university education provided a globally competitive edge in terms of productive and innovative outcomes that prime our economy, why would we be offering places to assist other nations outcompete us on global markets? What the USA has woken up to is that via the university-corporate door, China has taken intellectual property and entire industries offshore and transplanted them – causing the collapse of the middle class. Where is the index that measures the role of universities?

    There is a dirty little secret that says much about how the university sector operates. Here is person with a diversity free pass explaining it (get’s to the point at about 0:50 sec).

    This is how Oxford does it as well. A hell of a lot of talent is shipped in – no one talks about this!

    So the real race is to attract and keep brains from OS that help drive intellectual competitiveness. Being a degree factory for the region has nothing to do with this objective and helping other nations to outcompete in industries that we train overseas students in is counterproductive.

    Bottom line: our politicians are not serious about R&D and innovation and never have been. This is all about short term profit and offsetting costs so that the neoliberals can progress their ideological obsessions to turn everything into a casino that makes profit enough to be an ‘industry’ in a free market. If we did believe in innovation and our intellectual capacity to develop new industries for the future we would be investing massive public resources in research and the tertiary sector – and not sharing the bounty. The only visas we would issue would be for the cream of overseas students and researchers and we would want 100% of them to stay.

    We need some index that measures the damage the current mass immigration and education commodity agenda is dong to our society and our kid’s future.

    • We need Research Centres not University-based research at the expense of education (or research at the expense of education).

      Recearch Centres can sell their knowledge to education providers in the form of curriculum input.

  9. These rankings aggregate all disciplines. If you look at the rankings on a per-discipline basis, it becomes clear that the subject areas in which the majority of foreign students enroll have fallen much lower over recent years, due to crush loading of students with no extra teaching resources. Would a student choose to study, say, Computer Science at a university which has a low ranking for Computer Science but a high ranking for other areas like Physics or Medicine?

  10. Ronin8317MEMBER

    The ratio is meaningless since most overseas student are too busy driving Uber and delivering UberEat to turn up to class. If they all turn up, the lecture halls can’t fit them in.