Publication Details

Gibson, C. (2015). Why are young Australian unis punching above their weight?. The Conversation, 5 May 1-3.

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The latest Times Higher Education rankings of universities under 50 years old paints a positive picture for the Australian higher education sector. Of the Top 100 Under 50, Australia has more high-ranking universities (16) than any other country. What is it about the Australian higher education system that allows new universities to flourish more so than in the US or UK? What does the THE Top 100 Under 50 result say about our "need" for reform in the higher education sector? To put this result into perspective, the UK, with nearly triple our population (64 million) and well over triple the number of universities (162), had 15 listed in the Top 100 Under 50. The United States, with a population of 320 million and over 4,700 degree-granting public and private universities, liberal arts and community colleges, could only manage seven in the Top 100 Under 50. Admittedly, none of Australia's 16 are in that list's top 20. UTS came closest (21st). Higher honours instead go to universities across a host of countries including Switzerland, Korea, Germany, France, Turkey, the Netherlands, the UK and US. Nevertheless, with 16 in the Top 100 Under 50, the Australian picture is arresting: of consistent, strong overall standards beyond the country's older universities, of high quality across many young institutions - not just a couple of standout cases, as is typical for most other countries on the list. Given that, comparatively, Australia grossly under-invests in higher education as a percentage of GDP, the result is all the more remarkable. We haven't bought our way to success. What, then, are the factors that allow our young universities to perform so well?