University Rankings - how do we stack up and why are they important

For some of you - and your parents - the ranking a university holds for a subject or course can be a major factor in your decision whether to attend that institution.

Rankings can help in providing reassurance that the course you are thinking about is being taught well and to international standards. The latest 2017 QS World University Rankings by Subject report, released in early March, certainly confirms that our eight universities are indeed meeting (and often exceeding) true international levels.

More: how are the QS World University Rankings worked out

How did our universities rank?

New Zealand universities posted top 50 rankings in 22 of the 46 subjects reviewed in the latest QS Top Universities rankings, and were ranked in the top 100 universities for 85% of these subjects. These results sound even better when you consider that 4430 universities around the world were included in the rankings, although not all offered all 46 subjects under review. 

There were some really good results in the latest rankings. These include:

  • Otago ranking 7th in the world for Sport-related subjects (the first time sports have been included in the evaluation).
  • Otago also ranked 24th in Anatomy and Physiology, 29th in Dentistry, 40th in Archaeology
  • Auckland ranking 16th in the world for Archeology and 20th in the world for Education
  • Auckland also ranked 29th in English Language and Literature, 33rd in Psychology, 34th in both Geography and in Anatomy and Physiology, 36th in Law, 37th in Accounting and Finance and 38th in Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Massey ranked 23rd in Veterinary Science, and 27th in Agriculture and Forestry
  • Waikato and AUT both featured in the top 50 universities globally offering subjects or courses in Hospitality and Leisure Management (hard to top the natural best ranker here – The University of Nevada in Los Vegas)

Read how the New Zealand universities performed in the 2017 QS World University Rankings by Subject

Are rankings important, and if so, why?

Many parents believe that a better ranking can help you into a better degree and in turn into a better job. For them, the ‘quality’ of your degree is much more important that the university experience, and if you are paying big money to study, it should be worth it. These are hard arguments to dispute.

Universities love rankings, but only if they score well in them. All are happy to use rankings as marketing tools when they good, and in Auckland’s case it has an impressive story to tell being ranked highest in NZ for 37 of the 40 subjects it was ranked on.

Central to the universities’ affection for good rankings is the quality of student they attract. The better rankings hopefully draw better students (especially if entry is restricted) who in turn excel and build the course and university reputation, and up go the rankings again. 

Rankings are important in universities being able to attract high quality teaching and research staff, to attract other institutions to conduct joint research programmes and to win government and philanthropic research funding. It’s a sure bet that the staff in Otago’s School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences will be hoping their high global ranking might save some of the jobs currently under threat in the department.

Should you be choosing a university on rankings alone?

Really rankings are (or should be) just one factor in your decision. Sure, try to aim as high as you can, but balance this against a bunch of others in order to find the sweetest spot for you.

Accommodation will be a huge factor in helping decide where you go, especially when staying at home is becoming a default option for many students. The student lifestyle on offer is important for many students, as are support services for students as well as very real financial concerns (eg, getting part time work, flatting costs, transport costs).

New Zealand students and parents can take lots of useful information from university rankings, and a lot of reassurance that our universities are up with some of the world’s best. However, to make them the only factor in your decision just might not end up giving you the university experience and outcome you have been dreaming about.

Explore the full QS World University Rankings by Subject

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