Latest rankings good, but they’re not everything

If rankings are an important factor in helping you work out which university you want to go to, the latest rankings will have you smiling, but maybe a little nonplussed too. 

Five New Zealand universities climbed up the rankings in the annual QS World University Rankings released in early June, with 7 of the country’s 8 universities now among among the top 350 worldwide. 

The University of Waikato climbed the most of the local universities, jumping 32 places to 292nd overall. Massey and Lincoln universities climbed 24 spots to 316th and 319th respectively, the University of Otago was boosted 18 places to 151st, and Victoria University of Wellington rose 9 places to 219th. 

More: Read how the Kiwi universities featured 

The University of Auckland was New Zealand's top-placed provider at 82nd worldwide, sliding back one spot on last year's rankings.  

Internationally, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) held its first place spot for the sixth year running, followed by Stanford and Harvard universities. English academic institutions Cambridge and Oxford were fifth and sixth placed respectively after California Institute of Technology (4th). It is interesting to note that both MIT and Caltec, 1 and 4 on the list, began life as technical institutes.  

The fourteenth annual QS ranking looked at institutions' reputations as employers, their academic reputation, research outputs and international staff and student numbers. This year included universities in China for the first time, with 6 making the top 100. 

A cycle designed to maximise numbers 

Rankings are part of a cyclic process. Universities will typically do everything they can to maximise their rank because a higher ranking attracts world-class academic staff who then do good research. This increases the university's international research profile and its perceived student experience, which then drives up domestic and international student numbers, increasing income for the university.  

What university rankings don't assess however is campus life and culture. What does the place feel like? 

University is often portrayed as a place to go wild, party in hostels, and skip class to get high and eat pizza with your new life-long buddies. But a recent survey of 43000 university students in Canada found more than 66 per cent reported feeling "very lonely" in the past year. It’s sure not all fun and froth - almost half the students in the Canadian research felt "debilitatingly depressed".  

Research what is the best place for you 

Careers New Zealand Principal Advisor Pat Cody said it is important students looking at universities talk to others who have done the course before so they know what it will be like.  

"Check it out, check the institution and the surrounding environment not just at their open days. You have to think about the broader living environment," he said.  

"Those small things on campus can make quite a bit of difference to your experience."  


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