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Source: University Of Auckland

While the performance of the University of Auckland continues to improve in most areas, it has fallen from the world’s top 200 Universities according to the Times Higher Education (THE) results announced today (Wednesday 26 September GMT).

And this trajectory will continue until governments begin prioritising the quality of university education over cost, says Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon.

“Auckland significantly outperforms other New Zealand institutions, both in absolute terms and in the international rankings. Our performance has increased year on year [note to editors – see graphs below). However, like the other highly ranked New Zealand universities, we have experienced a gradual decline in our international rankings.

Professor McCutcheon said that the universities had been predicting this situation for some time and had raised it as an area of concern to successive governments.

“New Zealand’s universities are forced by government policy to operate with some of the lowest levels of income per student in the developed world. Although we use our resources very efficiently, we simply cannot compete with countries where governments recognise the key role of the universities as drivers of economic, social and environmental change and invest in them accordingly.”

We should all be concerned about the declining rankings because it has the potential to damage New Zealand’s very significant international education business, which could otherwise reach $5 billion by 2025. (There were 25,155 international university students in 2015 with net spending of $875m1).

“We are also risking retention of high performing domestic students with the financial ability to study overseas, who may also choose higher ranked universities.”

Professor McCutcheon said there are things the university can and is doing to address the rankings slide, including working to grow international awareness among academic peers, who are part of the ‘voting’ system that determines final ranks.

“But the reality is we are competing in a field where overseas governments are prioritising university development as both a hub of research and innovation, and a serious contributor to GDP. In China and other East Asian countries there is significant central investment and their improved rankings reflect this.

“Frankly, it is time for New Zealand governments to stop investing in lowering the cost of education and instead invest in raising quality and the rankings of our top universities.”

The Vice-Chancellor’s sentiment are reflected by Ellie Bothwell, Global Rankings Editor at THE.

“… the broader story for New Zealand is more concerning, with the majority of its universities declining or remaining stagnant … its flagship having now dropped out of the top 200, amid a funding freeze and intensified global competition,” she said.

“[This] reflects a pattern this year among nations sharing similar challenges – including Australia, the US and parts of Europe ….. To stem any decline and certainly to progress, New Zealand’s universities will require sustained strong investment and the ability to attract and retain the very best global talent, research collaborations and international students.”

[1] The Economic Impact of International Education in New Zealand 2015/16 for Education New Zealand, October 2016. Infometrics and National Research Bureau (NRB)