The latest Times Higher Education's World Reputation Rankings has only three Australian universities in the top 100: University of Melbourne, Australian National University and University of Sydney. These rankings are based on the opinions of academics. As Asian countries increase in wealth they can afford to spend more on their universities and so their rankings will increase and those of other countries will continue to decline.
The rankings are not very meaningful for academics, as it is the team for a particular sub-discipline which is important, not the institution overall. However, the university reputation is important in terms of attracting students and funding.
One way Australia could improve its rankings is to have fewer universities. Currently Australia has 43 universities for 1.3 million students, which is about 30,000 students per university. Research by Garrett (2016) indicates that larger institutions (100,000 to 500,000 students) were growing, whereas smaller ones were declining. This suggests Australia should have about 10 universities, each with about 130,000 students. This need not require a radical restructuring or closing of campuses, just merging of university brands.
Garrett's study was of on-line universities and it might be argued that this is not applicable to Australia's campus based institutions. However, a radical restructuring of universities is happening in Australia, brought on by adoption of e-learning. This will happen regardless of the size of Australian universities and will happen regardless of what they do. Currently this restructuring is being largely undertaken by stealth under the label of "blended learning". However, whatever it is called, if Australian universities don't restructure for e-learning and have a sufficient size to make them viable, they will be put out of business by overseas institutions offering education on-line to Australian students.
Garrett, R. (2016). The State of Open Universities in the Commonwealth: A perspective on performance, competition and innovation. Retrieved from: http://dspace.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/2048/2016_Garrett_State-of-Open-Universities.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
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