On Thursday 16th July, the Centre For World University Rankings (CWUR) released their 2014 edition of their annual publication. The Australian National University was ranked 160th in the world, a considerable drop from their previous 96th spot. This new ranking places the University of Sydney first in the country, followed by the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, UNSW and in 5th place the ANU.

Their website describes CWUR as “the only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions.” According to an explanatory paper of their methodology, available on their website, the subjectivity of student surveys is the one of the main drawbacks of other university rankings such as QS and Times. The Shanghai tRanking is the only other major publication that does not use student surveys, but CWUR identifies that instead Shanghai places excessive weight on research-based indicators without properly assessing the quality of education and training of students.

The CWUR also criticises the capacity of certain indicators to be manipulated. In reference to QS, where the ANU is ranked the highest, the CWUR said that “another shortcoming is the faculty to student ratio indicator, where the number of faculty could be inflated by including academic-related and non-teaching staff, resulting in the indicator failing to reflect the quality of teaching.” Similar criticisms were made of the Shanghai Ranking.

The explanatory paper attests to the suitability of its indicators in that they are objective and perceived to be robust against manipulation. Namely, the indicators used are quality of education (number of alumni who have won major international awards relative to the university’s size), alumni employment (number of alumni who currently hold CEO positions at the world’s top companies relative to the university’s size), quality of faculty (number of academics who have won major international awards), publications (number of research papers appearing in reputable journals), influence (number of research papers appearing in highly-influential journals), citations (number of highly-cited research papers), broad impact (university’s h-Index) and patents (number of international patent filings).

Out the top five Australian universities, the ANU placed second-last in quality of education, last in alumni employment, first in quality of faculty, last in publications, second in influence and last in citations, broad impact and patents.

In comparison to other rankings, the ANU is currently placing 27th in QS, 48th in Times and 66th in Shanghai. Nevertheless, these standings still indicate a downward trend across the rankings, with the ANU having placed 24th in QS in 2012, 37th in Times and 64th in Shanghai. This year’s edition of these rankings have not yet been published.

Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor of ANU, was contacted by Woroni for comment on the new ranking. In response to our question, Vice-Chancellor Young said, “I have never heard of this ranking so can’t really comment.”