Executive Summary and Full 2017 Report

The key findings from the 2017 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems.

A quality system of higher education should be congruent with national aims and personal desires and aptitudes. This requires a diverse system of higher education which cannot be evaluated solely on the basis of the performance of research-intensive universities. This report presents the results for the sixth annual Universitas 21 ranking of national systems of higher education and explains the methodology. Fifty national systems of higher education, from all continents, are evaluated on the basis of 25 attributes. Variables are standardised for population size. Countries are ranked overall and in each of four areas: Resources, Environment, Connectivity and Output.

Resources, whether public or private, are a necessary condition for a well-functioning system of higher education but they are not sufficient: a well-designed policy environment is needed to ensure that resources are used well. A consensus is emerging that the preferred environment is one where institutions are allowed considerable autonomy tempered by external monitoring and competition. The Environment module measures the extent to which national systems meet these criteria.
The Output measures encompass attributes such as participation rates, research performance, the existence of some world class universities, and employability of graduates. There is a world-wide trend for governments to encourage institutions of higher education to strengthen relationships with business and the rest of the community. International links are also important for the transmission of knowledge. Six such linkage measures are included in our Connectivity module.

The highest ranked countries for Resources are Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. The Environment for higher education is ranked best in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong SAR. Switzerland is a clear leader in Connectivity followed by the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. For the Output module, the United States is ranked first, followed by the United Kingdom; then follow a group of five countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Comparing changes in Output rankings since the 2013 ranking, the six largest improvers have been China, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Africa.

The results for each module are combined into an overall ranking using weights of 40 per cent for Resources and 20 per cent for each of the other three modules. The top five countries in the overall ranking are, in rank order, the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.

An important aim of our work is to permit countries to benchmark performance against other countries at similar stages of development. In order to facilitate these comparisons, we present estimates of a country’s performance relative to its level of GDP per capita. The top seven countries are now, in alphabetical order, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Serbia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

A subsidiary ranking of performance in research, teaching and engagement for 30 countries incorporates measures of the literacy and numeracy competencies of tertiary students and recent graduates. The highest competency scores are achieved in Finland, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden.