Australia dominates in impact rankings

Times Higher Education has released the sixth edition of its Impact Rankings, which includes 1,963 institutions across 125 countries; compared to 1,521 institutions in 2023 and just 462 in 2019.

Australian universities continue to perform extremely well and dominate at the top – occupying five of the top 20 places. Western Sydney ranks first globally for a third consecutive year. Tasmania is =2nd and RMIT ranks 5th, followed by UNSW Sydney at 7th and UTS ranked =13th.

Another four institutions are included in the world’s top 50: Macquarie, Monash, Newcastle, and Wollongong rank in the 24 to 44 range. Overall, 12 Australian universities are ranked in the top 100.

This is remarkable for a country that shows mixed performance when it comes to demonstrating progress towards achieving targets for the United Nations’ sustainable development agenda.

Fewer Australian unis

This year, 26 Australian universities submitted data to at least two sustainable development goals (SDGs), but only 21 are included in the overall rank. Interestingly, compared to last year, three fewer institutions elected not to have an overall rank. In part, this is influenced by the fact that this assessment is one that is resource intensive and requires meticulous coordination – it’s like undertaking a mini-ERA (Excellence in Research in Australia) on an annual basis.

Increasingly, we are seeing that more research-intensive universities are opting to participate in this ranking due to the opportunity to benchmark their data against against peer institutions. As a result of participation in this assessment, universities have a tool to develop roadmaps for improvement and evidence-based pathways for impact to government, civil society and market forces.

Global standouts

Over the past five years, six institutions consistently performed among the world’s best (i.e., at least four times ranked in the top 20): Western Sydney, Manchester, Aalborg, RMIT, Queen’s, and Arizona State.

This is remarkable, because since its inception in 2019, the Impact Rankings have shown a degree of volatility in yearly results. This volatility is in part influenced by the continued year-on-year increase in the number of participating institutions, but it is also a reflection on how best practices for a specific SDG one year are superseded by another the year after.

Canada has five institutions among the top 20, whilst the United Kingdom has three and the United States has two. Five other countries have one institution each ranked in the top 20, including Denmark, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Thailand.

Not all SDGs are equal

This ranking is designed to showcase how institutions are working towards addressing the United Nations’ SDGs.

However, the 17 SDGs are not all viewed equally across countries and world regions. Universities prefer some SDGs over others due to differences in institutional missions, priorities, or hierarchical needs. It is also driven by the likelihood of ranking higher in the Impact Rankings.

Aside from the compulsory SDG 17 (partnership for the goals), the preferred SDGs for Australian universities were SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). The SDG with the lowest participation was SDG 2 (zero hunger).

Globally, SDG 4 (quality education) was the one with the highest number of participating institutions (1681), followed by SDG 3 (good health and well-being); the SDGs with the lowest number of participating institutions were SDG 14 (life under water, 628 institutions) and SDG 15 (life above water, 741 institutions).

Methodological tune in

Despite the volatility we have seen with this ranking over the past six years, THE introduced one important change last year to bring year-on-year stability: the use of a rolling average of the last two years’ scores for the overall ranking table. There is still some further tuning which needs to occur.

I would like to see reduced annual volatility in SDG 17 (partnership for the goals). Several universities both in Australia and overseas experienced a drop in performance both in 2022, and this year. Once THE mitigates this excessive annual variability, we will be more confident in the overall results stability and longevity of this remarkable ranking.

Angel Calderon is RMIT’s Director of Strategic Insights



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