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A guide to university rankings in Australia

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What are university rankings, how do they work and are they helpful to prospective students? We dive into the world of university ranking systems.

When researching postgraduate courses, one of the tools prospective students use to navigate the multitude of available options is university rankings. These evaluations of higher education institutions use various metrics to compare universities on a national and international scale, providing a snapshot of where these institutions stand in the academic hierarchy.

University rankings can help prospective students find a university that aligns with their academic interests, career aspirations and personal preferences. However, not all ranking systems are the same. Each has its own methodology, criteria and focus areas.

In this article, we examine university rankings and offer insights into the different systems, how they evaluate institutions and where Australian universities sit on a global and national scale.

Does a university ranking matter?

Ranking systems are designed to help prospective students decide which university is best for them. The systems use metrics such as student satisfaction, academic performance, faculty qualifications and research output to compare universities. But are rankings actually a reliable indicator of a university’s superiority?

Before we can answer that, it’s helpful to understand that there are a range of ranking systems, which are based on various criteria. When using rankings to guide your decision as a student, make sure your priorities align with the ranking system and the metrics used. Be sure to keep those metrics or criteria in mind as you start exploring rankings.

It’s also important to remember that achieving a good ranking for many factors often takes time — older, more established universities may have a better chance at ranking than younger institutions. So, while newer institutions might rank lower, that doesn’t mean they offer an inferior education.

Take in the bigger picture

While university rankings offer insights into various aspects of an institution, they don’t provide a complete picture. These rankings shouldn’t be the sole basis of your decision-making process. It’s crucial to take a more well-rounded approach and consider other factors like cost, location, campus culture and course offerings that align with your career goals and personal preferences.

Emily Wheeler, strategy manager at Headspace, gives us some insight into her experience choosing a postgraduate health course.

After gaining a nursing and science degree and working as a nurse, Wheeler soon decided to pursue postgraduate study at the university where she had gained her undergraduate qualifications. For her, the choice was easy. “I was familiar with the university and it has a good reputation.”

Her chosen university was also close to home and cheaper than the other university she was considering. “It came down to cost and reputation for me.”

Wheeler recognises that for others, choosing a university can be daunting. “My advice to prospective students would be to talk to the faculty, talk to other students who are going through or have been through the course you’re considering. They can tell you about the experience of attending the university, the culture and level of support you get from the faculty and other students.”

Wheeler notes that some universities offer good pastoral care or extracurricular activities, which do not necessarily appear in rankings. If the experience of university life is important to you, it’s advisable to look beyond rankings and academic results to get a sense of the experience you’ll have at that institution.

How do university rankings work?

A ranking system uses specific metrics to rank universities. These metrics can be based on factors such as:

  • an analysis of academic papers
  • the university’s academic reputation
  • faculty members’ opinions about the university
  • employer opinions about the university
  • the research output of the university
  • student satisfaction surveys
  • the quality of faculty and staff
  • the employment outcomes of graduates

Whether or not a ranking system is helpful to you as a prospective student depends on the factors being measured.

Always keep in mind what matters to you. Is it the quality of the research or how employers will view your qualifications? Perhaps it’s the location or student experience. Maybe you want to engage in research and work with top academics. Some of these factors are measured by rankings, others aren’t. Let’s explore a few different systems.

University rankings for health courses

So, how are universities ranked? Remember, each ranking system has its own methodology and scores universities based on its own criteria. So, how a university ranks depends on the system doing the ranking. Here are three well-known university ranking systems you might come across in your research. 

The "=" symbol indicates that the university is tied with one or more other universities in the rankings. 

QS World University Rankings: Life Sciences and Medicine

In 2024, the QS World University Rankings featured 1500 institutions from around the globe. The results were taken from the more than 17 million academic papers and expert opinions submitted by 240,000 faculty and university staff members.

The QS World University Rankings are also broken down into five broad subject areas, of which Life Sciences and Medicine is one.

When determining rankings, the five indicators that are measured here are:

  • academic reputation – academics are asked to list the institutions which they believe show research excellence
  • employer reputation taken from surveys of graduate employers around the world
  • research citations per paper
  • the H-index, which is a measurement of the productivity and influence of a particular academic or university department
  • an institution’s international research network (by broad faculty area)

As well as ranking the overall subject of Life Sciences and Medicine, this system also shows the top universities for individual subject areas such as nursing and psychology.

2023 QS World University Rankings for Life Sciences and Medicine

20 The University of Melbourne
25 The University of Sydney
32 The University of Queensland
33 Monash University
54 The University of New South Wales
85 The University of Western Australia
92 The University of Adelaide
117 Australian National University
162 The University of Newcastle
201 Queensland University of Technology
217 La Trobe University
235 Curtin University
243 Deakin University
249 Griffith University
271 Flinders University
296 University of Technology Sydney
297 Macquarie University
297 University of Tasmania
302 Western Sydney University
340 University of South Australia
348 James Cook University
388 University of Wollongong
451-500 RMIT University
501-520 Australian Catholic University

Times Higher Education World University Rankings: clinical and health

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings place particular emphasis on universities’ research capabilities and rank the institutions against 18 performance indicators in the areas of:

  • the teaching and learning environment
  • the research environment in terms of income, volume and reputation
  • the quality output of research
  • how knowledge transfers to industry
  • international outlook in terms of research, staff and students

This ranking system also has clinical and health subject rankings in the areas of medicine, dental and other health. The weightings of each of the performance indicators vary depending on the particular subject being measured. So for health subjects, the teaching, research quality and research environment indicators have more weight than the industry and international outlook weightings.

2024 Times Higher Education World University Rankings for clinical and health

20 The University of Melbourne
29 Monash University
=38 The University of Sydney
54 The University of Queensland
71 University of Adelaide
=74 University of New South Wales
101-125 Australian National University
101-125 The University of Western Australia
151-175 La Trobe University
151-175 Macquarie University
151-175 University of Technology Sydney
176-200 University of Newcastle
176-200 Queensland University of Technology
201-250 Curtin University
201-250 Deakin University
201-250 Flinders University
201-250 University of South Australia
201-250 Western Sydney University
251-300 Australian Catholic University
251-300 Bond University
251-300 Griffith University
251-300 Murdoch University
251-300 University of Wollongong
301-400 University of Canberra
301-400 Edith Cowan University
301-400 Federation University Australia
301-400 RMIT University
301-400 Swinburne University of Technology
301-400 University of Tasmania
301-400 Victoria University
401-500 Central Queensland University
401-500 James Cook University
401-500 University of Southern Queensland
401-500 University of Sunshine Coast
501-600 Charles Darwin University
601-800 Charles Sturt University
601-800 Southern Cross University

AFR Best Universities Ranking

An exclusively Australian university rankings system, the AFR Best Universities Ranking was launched in late 2023.

This system rates universities on five metrics:

  • student satisfaction
  • research performance
  • global reputation
  • career impact
  • equity and access

The Australian Financial Review reports that the ranking system considers dozens of objective data sources, while the league table differs from other global lists, which they claim are based on more narrow measures. The result is a system that offers a more nuanced view of Australian universities.

The measure of equity and access is not featured in international rankings, but this metric is fundamental for many outer-suburb and regional Australian universities. As a result, it is a key metric of this ranking system, which aims to recognise those younger, less wealthy institutions.

Best Universities Ranking 2023

1 The University of Queensland
2 University of New South Wales
3 The Australian National University
4 Monash University
5 The University of Adelaide
6 Edith Cowan University
=7 Deakin University
=7 The University of Melbourne
=7 University of Technology Sydney
=7 University of Wollongong
11 The University of South Australia
=12 Bond University
=12 Central Queensland University
=12 The University of Western Australia
=15 James Cook University
=15 Macquarie University
=15 Swinburne University of Technology
=15 The University of Sydney
=15 University of Newcastle
=15 University of Southern Queensland
=15 University of Sunshine Coast
=22 Australian Catholic University
=22 Griffith University
=24 Flinders University
=24 Queensland University of Technology
=24 University of New England
=27 Southern Cross University
=27 University of Canberra
29 University of Tasmania
=30 The University of Notre Dame Australia
=30 Western Sydney University
=33 Curtin University
=33 Federation University Australia
=33 La Trobe University
=36 Charles Darwin University
=36 RMIT University
38 Charles Sturt University
39 Victoria University
40 Torrens University

Where to from here?

While university rankings provide a valuable tool for prospective students to assess and compare institutions, it’s crucial to understand the features of the different ranking systems so you can make an informed decision about your future educational path.

Feeling inspired? Explore the healthcare courses available from our university partners, including Edith Cowan University, which ranks highly on the AFR Best University Ranking for student satisfaction or University of Technology Sydney, which is in the top 150 universities in the world in the 2024 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Victoria University also ranks highly for equity in AFR Best University Ranking, while James Cook University is sitting at number 25 in Australia in the 2024 QS World University Rankings. The University of Canberra consistently ranks for research quality, while in recent years Southern Cross University has risen in both the QS Rankings and Times Higher Education rankings.