US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland have best higher education systems
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
May 27, 2015 - 5:55 AM

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The US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland have the best higher education systems according to an annual ranking of 50 countries. Ireland is at 18 down from 17 in 2014. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have rankings of 27 and 28, ahead of Italy.

Universitas 21, a network of global research universities, sponsors the rankings that were produced at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research University of Melbourne. The latest rankings were published last Friday and the research differs from more conventional university ratings such as those from Times Higher Education (THE) and the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, as the focus is on the higher education system as a whole.

Fifty national systems of higher education, from all continents, are evaluated on the basis of 25 attributes. The attributes are grouped into four modules: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output. The institute says that resources are a necessary condition for excellence but they are not sufficient: they may be used inefficiently. Resources need to be complemented by a favourable regulatory environment which gives considerable independence to institutions, while monitoring quality and fostering competition. Institutions need to be well-connected to external stakeholders within the country to maximise their contribution to the nation; external connections are important in facilitating the flow of new ideas.

Population size is accounted for in the calculations.

The highest ranked countries for Resources are Denmark and Canada; Singapore is third, having risen six places since the 2014 rankings, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and the United States. The Czech Republic shows the greatest improvement over last year’s rankings. Ireland is at 17.

The top three countries in the Output ranking are the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada; Denmark is fourth and Sweden and Switzerland are equal fifth. Saudi Arabia shows the largest increase, rising 11 places to 35. Ireland is at 17.

The four leaders in Connectivity are all countries with relatively small populations: Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Denmark; the United Kingdom is ranked fifth. Ireland is at 17.

The environment for higher education is judged to be best in the United States, Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region of China), Finland and the Netherlands. Ireland is at 16

Professor Ross Williams commented: “The primary aim of the rankings is to tell us which countries have quality higher education systems and which countries are showing the greatest improvement, but the data also provide valuable information on how education systems can be improved. For example, the resource base of the higher education sector is strongly related to the engagement of the sector with business and international researchers: it pays institutions to be outwardly focussed. The data also confirm that the way to increase research performance is to selectively increase expenditure on research.”

Jane Usherwood, U21’s secretary general, also commented: “Now in its fourth year, the U21 Rankings provide a valuable tool for policy makers and commentators who are interested in the contexts within which universities operate. Producing a ranking adjusted for levels of economic development as well as the overall results gives a real insight into the realities in which major universities around the world operate, not just members of Universitas 21 alone. We are pleased that so many ministries of education and other interested parties are now using this data to help guide debate about the role of higher education in their country.”

U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems 2015

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