Executive Summary and Full 2015 Report

The key findings from the 2015 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems.

The report presents results for the 2015 Universitas 21 annual ranking of national systems of higher education and explains the methodology used to obtain the results. The essential logic behind the development of national rankings is that it is the higher education system as a whole, not just research intensive universities, that matters for the economic and cultural development of a nation.

Fifty national systems of higher education, from all continents, are evaluated on the basis of 25 attributes. The attributes are grouped into four modules: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output. Resources are a necessary condition for excellence but they are not sufficient: they may be used inefficiently. Resources need to be complemented by a favourable regulatory environment which gives considerable independence to institutions, while monitoring quality and fostering competition. Institutions need to be well-connected to external stakeholders within the country to maximise their contribution to the nation; external connections are important in facilitating the flow of new ideas.

The actual selection of variables is constrained by the availability of data. The Resources module covers government expenditure on higher education, total expenditure, and R&D expenditure in tertiary institutions. The Environment module comprises a qualitative index of the policy environment, business views of the education system, the gender balance of students and academic staff, and a data quality variable. This year a measure of the financial autonomy of institutions, based on a survey we conducted, has been added to the qualitative index. The Connectivity module includes numbers of international students, research articles written with international collaborators, measures of interaction with business and industry, and web-based connectivity. Nine Output variables are included that cover research output and its impact, the presence of world-class universities, participation rates and the qualifications of the workforce. The appropriateness of training is measured indirectly by relative unemployment rates for different levels of education. Variables are standardised for population size.

Rankings are provided for each module as well as an overall ranking. For the latter, Output is weighted at 40 per cent and the other modules are weighted at 20 per cent. The highest ranked countries for Resources are Denmark and Canada; Singapore is third, having risen six places since the 2014 rankings, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and the United States. The Czech Republic shows the greatest improvement over last year’s rankings. The environment for higher education is judged to be best in the United States, Hong Kong SAR, Finland and the Netherlands. The four leaders in Connectivity are all countries with relatively small populations: Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Denmark; the United Kingdom is ranked fifth. The top three countries in the Output ranking are the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada; Denmark is fourth and Sweden and Switzerland are equal fifth. Saudi Arabia shows the largest increase, rising 11 places to 35.

Aggregating to obtain an overall ranking, the top ten countries are the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Australia. Comparing the rankings with those of two years ago, the larger movements are correlated with changes in economic circumstances: China, South Africa, Chile and Hungary improving; Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Turkey falling.

We calculate a second overall ranking by looking at how countries rate compared with what is the expected performance at their level of GDP per capita. This is done by fitting regression lines to each data series. Using this adjustment a number of lower income countries rise up markedly in the rankings: South Africa to 10th, China to 16th and India to 18th.