Home > Oz Politics > This is the model ? (updated and corrected)

This is the model ? (updated and corrected)

September 16th, 2014

The QS World University Rankings have just come out, and, as you might expect the top places (11 of the to 20 and 17 of the top 50) are dominated by US universities. By contrast Australia has five universities in the top 50 (ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UQ and UNSW) So, you might think, this is a pretty good argument for following the US model. You get a different story, however, if you look at undergraduate enrolments (conveniently listed in Wikipedia)

I calculate that the 15 US universities in the top 50 have a total undergraduate enrolment of 210 000 (that’s dominated by a few public universities: Michigan, UC Berkeley, UCLA and Wisconsin-Madison, as well as Cornell which is partly public). By contrast, the five Australian unis enrol 148 000.

Adjusted for population, Australian students are about ten times as likely as Americans to attend a top 50 university.

Of course, the figures should be adjusted for fee-paying international students, who constitute a much larger share of the Australian student population than in the US. On the other hand, international enrolments at the top US universities are also increasing. And since many of them haven’t increased enrolments since the 1950s, the number of places for domestic American students is actually declining.

Note: I previously used the 2013 rankings. I’ve updated to the 2014 list, which includes UNSW and two more US universities. The ratios don’t change significantly as a result.

Further note In comments, reader Aldonius points to more accurate enrolment stats than I got from Wikipedia

109K domestic undergrads; 135K total (80% domestic) for ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UQ and UNSW
723K domestic undergrads; 926K total (78% domestic) For all Oz universities

Here’s my US list

MIT 4528
Harvard 7200
Stanford 6980
Yale 5414
Chicago 5134
CalTech 978
Princeton 5336
Columbia 8365
Cornell 13935
JHU 6023
Michigan 27979
Duke 6495
Berkeley 25951
Northwestern 8459
UCLA 28674
NYU 19401
Wisconsin 29504
Total 210356

And for Australia

ANU 10231
Melbourne 38000
Sydney 32393
UQ 34228
UNSW 33000
Total 147852

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  1. Ivor
    September 16th, 2014 at 20:06 | #1

    Try recounting.

    I make it 5 – UNSW at number 48.

  2. John Quiggin
    September 16th, 2014 at 20:37 | #2

    I may have used last year’s list. Thanks for pointing this out!

  3. Ivor
    September 16th, 2014 at 20:47 | #3

    If we add 50,000 for UNSW then it appears that:

    if you are in USA only 0.05% of population are in a top 50 university.

    In Australia the figure is 0.7%.

    The higher ranked institutions generally have enrolments less than 12k. The lower ranked institutions, generally, more than 12 k.

    Extracting out international studnets may vary these numbers, but not the overall view.

  4. Devin Smith
    September 16th, 2014 at 21:14 | #4

    Where are your figures from? I worry about comparing apples to oranges—programmes that might be considered undergraduate in Australia being graduate or professional in the US, for instance, could skew the numbers a fair bit. Yale’s total enrolment, all in, is about 12k, so only 5400 undergrads of all sorts seems very low.

  5. frankis
    September 16th, 2014 at 21:30 | #5

    Also notable is that Australia’s public spending on tertiary education per student is the same as the US and less than most (UK, Japan, France, Singapore …): data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.XPD.TERT.PC.ZS

  6. aldonius
    September 16th, 2014 at 22:23 | #6

    If you go here:

    Then you can get a spreadsheet [2013, all students] that contains per-university postgrad/undergrad/other international/domestic breakdowns.

    Summary for ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UQ & UNSW:

    – 61K domestic postgrads; 89K total (68% domestic)
    – 109K domestic undergrads; 135K total (80% domestic)

    And for all universities in the spreadsheet:

    – 233K domestic postgrads; 347K total (67% domestic)
    – 723K domestic undergrads; 926K total (78% domestic)

    Which matches Ivor’s percentage estimates.

  7. conrad
    September 16th, 2014 at 22:30 | #7

    It’s not really a fair comparison. The top universities in the US you are talking about generally do a good job teaching, have any number of subjects to choose from (Liberal Arts really means Liberal Arts), there are large amounts of resource if you want or need them, and you can participate in real research even as an undergraduate.

    Alternatively, most undergraduate teaching in Australia ranges from average to awful, most universities either got rid of or never had large numbers of subjects you could choose from, and the resources available are limited at best. So even if more Australians get to go to a top 50 university, it doesn’t mean the experience is anything like the top US ones.

  8. Ikonoclast
    September 16th, 2014 at 23:40 | #8

    @John Quiggin

    When is it going to change? Will it be an endless litany of neoliberal policies for the next 20 years? Who is willing to predict the end of neoliberalism?

  9. hix
    September 17th, 2014 at 02:34 | #9

    Average till awfull compared to what? My felow students that went to Australia were the most happy ones with teaching quality. Albeit value for money is a different question.

  10. ZM
    September 17th, 2014 at 11:29 | #10

    I think it’s also arguable that the Australian model has so far supported a greater social cohesion than the us model. We don’t seem to have the extent of polarization on matters such as evolution and climate change etc here, and despite this government people seem in general to be more in favour of governments acting to assist through education, health, social services etc There is some – but it doesn’t seem as bad (although maybe it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the usa from abroad)

  11. TerjeP
    September 17th, 2014 at 13:56 | #11

    Not sure of the purpose of this analysis bit it’s interesting. Good job.

  12. Ivor
    September 17th, 2014 at 17:10 | #12

    Not sure of the purpose of this analysis

    The fact that Australia, with a population well below California has 10% of all the world’s top 50 universities needs explaining.

    There is no point as conrad says of claiming:

    do a good job teaching, have any number of subjects to choose from (Liberal Arts really means Liberal Arts), there are large amounts of resource if you want or need them, and you can participate in real research even as an undergraduate.

    if only around 0.05% of your population gets access.

    The difference between tax-funded education and education based on gifts from the rich and pay-as-you-go seems to come to mind.

    Why would only 0.05% of US citizens demand HE education if in Australia it is around 0.7%?

    So why is the US system so inefficient at serving the needs of humanity?

  13. conrad
    September 18th, 2014 at 07:31 | #13

    There’s a lot of point in claiming in, because being in the top 50 doesn’t necessarily make teaching good, and being out of it doesn’t necessarily make it bad, although there’s no doubt some correlation in places like the US where the funding per student also differs vastly (although there are mainly teaching universities that cost a similar amount to the student and probably do an even better job than the top research ones).

    The US is interesting because the distribution is different to Australia, which is very homogenous, so it makes a nice comparison.

  14. Zucchini
    September 18th, 2014 at 22:10 | #14

    QS is a British ranking designed to make the British Empire look good. According to Shanghai Jia Tong (hardly perfect, but not so biased) there is only one Australian university that just manages to get into the top 50. That also ignores the fact that the US has a plethora of teaching focused universities (e.g. liberal art colleges) that offer excellent undergraduate education.

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