Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, March 09, 2007

Regional Living Australia's University Index - Australia's top universities ranked by student experience

Photo: IT Building, University of the Sunshine Coast, a surprise performer in the Regional Living Australia university rankings.

Discussions about Australia's universities tend to be dominated by the so-called Gang of Eight, a group of eight universities - Western Australia, Adelaide, Melbourne, Monash, ANU, Sydney, NSW and Queensland - that are trying to position themselves as the dominant Australian universities.

These universities attempt to focus the debate on higher education, and with some success, on those attributes that best suit them in the battle for funding and position. The same type of thing comes through if you look at existing ranking systems, they focus on things that the universities themselves think are important

I have been concerned for some time that the discussion ignores the single most important thing, the student experience. Some of the most highly ranked universities offer the worst student experiences. So I thought that it might be interesting to try to create an undergraduate student centric ranking.

To do this, I have taken data from the Good Universities Guide 2007 and attached numbers to the star system they use to rank performance in different areas. So five stars gets five points, four stars four points and so on. Universities are then ranked by their total score.

In doing so, I have had to make judgements about the relevance of different areas to the student experience. Detailed notes on methodology follow at the end of the post.

At this point, the rankings cannot claim to be rigorous. However, the process and results are interesting.

The Rankings

A list of Australia's top 32 universities follow ranked by student experience. The M and the R indicate whether the university's main campus is in metro or Regional Australia. Many university's have a number of campuses.

I found the results very interesting.

There is a spread of 18 points between the top university, Wollongong, and the bottom group. Four of the top five universities (Wollongong, New England, ANU and Sunshine Coast) are located in Regional Australia.

I had expected UNE to be in the top group because it scores well on a number of student indicators. However, the presence of Sunshine Coast and Avondale College in the top 15 came as a surprise.

There is an interesting change process here in that many of the newer and smaller institutions (Avondale is actually long established but has only broadened its tertiary role recently) are obviously strongly student focused and hence score very well on student indicators.

Some of the major metro universities actually performed better than I expected. While not in the top group on some of the key student indicators, they score better on student entry demand and tend to score better on immediate jobs and salaries after graduation, thus pulling their rankings up. Queensland did best of the metros because it got reasonable scores across a range of indicators.

I mentioned the Gang of Eight. Their position in the rankings are Queensland (second), ANU (4=), Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australia (6=), Monash and the University of New South Wales (16=) and Adelaide (35th, 17 points). Not bad overall, but hardly sufficient to warrant their claims for university supremacy.

Within the Group of Eight, I was surprised at Adelaide's low ranking. Intuitively, and this is based on recent experience with both institutions, I would also have ranked Sydney lower, UNSW a little higher.

The rankings are:

  • 1 University of Wollongong 40 points (R)
  • 2= University of Queensland 35 points (M)
  • 2= University of New England 35 points (R)
  • 4 = Australian National University 33 points (R)
  • 4= University of the Sunshine Coast 33 (R)
  • 6 = University of Melbourne 32 points (M)
  • 6= University of Sydney 32 points (M)
  • 6= University of Southern Queensland 32 points (R)
  • 6= University of Western Australia 32 points (M)
  • 10= Charles Sturt University 31 points (R)
  • 10= Murdoch University 31 points (M)
  • 12= Avondale College 29 points (R)
  • 12= Central Queensland University 29 points (R)
  • 12= James Cook University 29 points (R)
  • 12= Swinburne University of Technology 29 points (M)
  • 16= University of Canberra 28 points (R)
  • 16= Monash University 28 points (M)
  • 18 Victoria University 27 points (M)
  • 19= Australian Catholic University 26 points (M)
  • 19= Macquarie University 26 points (M)
  • 19= University of New South Wales 26 points (M)
  • 19= University of Technology Sydney 26 points (M)
  • 23= Charles Darwin University 25 points (R)
  • 23= Curtin University of Technology 25 points (M)
  • 23= Southern Cross University 25 points (R)
  • 23= University of Tasmania 25 points (R)
  • 27 University of Ballarat 24 points (R)
  • 28 Flinders University 23 points (M)
  • 29= Edith Cowan University 22 points (M)
  • 29= Griffith University 22 points (M)
  • 29= La Trobe University 22 points (M)
  • 29= Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 22 points (M)


My focus is on the undergraduate experience. Postgraduate study raises different issues.

I have also focused on HECS funded places because I did not know how to weight full fee places.

Bond University is a case in point. I ranked all universities including Bond which scored 40 points, equal to Wollongong. But all Bond students pay fees. How do I balance this in terms of value to get a like for like index? This was too difficult, so I excluded Bond for the present.

The Good Universities Guide 2007 provides star rankings from one to four for universities across a number of dimension. At this stage in the development of the index I simply converted stars to point, adding them up to get a score.

I included the following criteria and for the following reasons:

  • student demand. I included student demand because this shows what students think of universities at the time they enter. This criterion favours the established metro universities.
  • entry flexibility. I included entry flexibility because this is important to students. This criterion favours the smaller universities who tend to be more flexible.
  • gender balance. I hesitated about this one, but finally included it because most students like having members of the opposite sex around.
  • Educational Experience - overall experience. I included this and the following criteria because they bear directly on the student experience while at university.
  • Educational Experience - teaching quality.
  • Educational Experience - generic skills.
  • Educational Experience - overall satisfaction.
  • Graduate starting salary. This and the following criterion are there as a measure of of immediate work outcomes, again something important to students.
  • Positive graduate outcomes. Included as an overall measure.
  • Cost of living. Included as a negative score from -1 to -5.

I excluded the following criteria and for the following reasons:

  • Non-Government Earnings, Research Grants and Research Intensity. These three criteria were were excluded because their linking to the undergraduate student experience is uncertain and is in any event picked up by the educational experience criteria.
  • Access and Equity. The Good University Guide has a number of tables under the heading access and equity. With two exceptions, entry flexibility and gender balance, I excluded these on the grounds that they either did not affect the educational experience or, to the degree that they did, the effect was picked up under other criteria.
  • Cultural Diversity. I placed no weight on cultural diversity because the effects are too uncertain. In theory, cultural diversity can add to the student experience. In practice, and as seen at some of our larger metro universities scoring high on cultural diversity in part because of the presence of large numbers of fee paying international students, there appears remarkably little interaction between different groups.
  • Staff-Student Ratios and Staff Qualifications. You would think that these are important. However, the apparent correlation between these and the educational rankings does not appear high, while they are in any event picked up in educational measures.

1 comment:

s said...


Can u tell me which university is better?
Swinburne, Deakin, LaTrobe or RMIT for information technology related courses?