Shanghai Jiao Tong World University Rankings

19 August 2011

You will have seen reports of the latest Shanghai Jiao Tong World University Rankings (SJTU). The fact that the University has slipped four places in the latest ranking is concerning, but I am encouraged that each faculty is actively working with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jill Trewhella and her portfolio to implement their strategies, individually and collectively, to improve our research performance (and thus address our competitive positioning).

We have done a huge amount of work over the last two years to develop the means to accurately assess our performance in research based on reliable data and analysis tools that enable evidence-based strategic goal setting, investment and performance management. Further, Professor Trewhella has developed a high-level strategy for optimising our performance in the 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and subsequent research quality assessments. Rankings are not infallible, and the SJTU rankings are somewhat partial in looking at research indicators for only some of our activities, but they are influential in the wider world and they provide clues to real strengths and weaknesses.

It is, of course, important to retain some perspective. A 1 percent increase in score can represent as many as 10 places in the rankings; 20 percent of the total score is for Nobel prizes and Fields medals, and these decrease in value gradually depending on how long ago they were awarded, so that even prizes awarded before 1920 are worth 2 percent; the citation criteria completely omit the humanities, so one of our strongest disciplines counts for nothing in 60 percent of the institutional score.

I am not dismissing the SJTU rankings. I am simply pointing out that we must do better and we can. As Professor Trewhella has said:

  • We first entered the list of top 100 universities in 2008 and have remained there ever since. Clearly our strategy going forward must carry us from this plateau, albeit a high one, to new heights.
  • The challenge is eminently doable. The difference in the overall score between the University of Sydney, ranked 96, and the University of Queensland, ranked 86, is only 0.9 percent, which means small differences in performance can result in big changes in the rankings.
  • The work of our ERA 'Field of Research' coordinators over the period September to November will be critical to our performance in ERA 2012.

In any case I know of the good work that continues to be done throughout this University and I am grateful to all of you for that!


Dr Michael Spence

Vice-Chancellor and Principal