U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems 2015

21 May 2015
The 2015 U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems has been announced!

The 2015 Ranking includes the same 50 countries as in the previous two reports, which have again been ranked separately by four areas and also given an overall rating. Population size is accounted for in the calculations.

Aggregating to obtain an overall ranking, the top ten countries are:

  • 1 United States of America (1)
  • 2 Switzerland (6)
  • 3 Denmark (=3)
  • 3 Finland (5)
  • 5 Sweden (2)
  • 6 Canada (=3) 
  • 7 Netherlands (7)
  • 8 United Kingdom (8)
  • 9 Singapore (10)
  • 10 Australia (9)

(Figures in brackets show the 2014 placings)

Comparing the rankings with those of two years ago, the larger movements are correlated with changes in economic circumstances: China, South Africa and Chile rising; Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Turkey falling.

As in 2014, this data has also been compared against the values expected at each country’s level of economic development, to create a second and separate set of ranking results:

GDP Adjusted Rank in 2015 

  • 1 Serbia (4)
  • 2 United Kingdom (6)
  • 3 Denmark (3)
  • 3 Sweden (1)
  • 5 Finland (2)
  • 6 Portugal (8)
  • 7 Canada (7)
  • 8 Switzerland (11)
  • 9 New Zealand (5)
  • 10 South Africa (17)

(Figures in bracket show the 2014 placings)

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.

The four more detailed areas of comparison are:

Resources (expenditure by government and private sector on teaching and research)

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.


Output (research and its impact, quality of the best institutions, and the production of an educated workforce which meets labour market needs)

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.

Connectivity (international networks and collaboration with industry)


The four leaders in Connectivity are all countries with relatively small populations: Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Denmark; the United Kingdom is ranked fifth.

Environment (government policy and regulation, financial autonomy and diversity)


The environment for higher education is judged to be best in the United States, Hong Kong SAR, Finland and the Netherlands.

The research authors, based at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, looked at 25 measures across these four areas, allowing them to create a very detailed picture of the higher education system in each country.

Speaking on the launch of this year’s rankings, lead author Professor Ross Williams commented: “The primary aim of the rankings is to tell us which countries have quality higher education systems and which countries are showing the greatest improvement, but the data also provide valuable information on how education systems can be improved. For example, the resource base of the higher education sector is strongly related to the engagement of the sector with business and international researchers: it pays institutions to be outwardly focussed. The data also confirm that the way to increase research performance is to selectively increase expenditure on research.”

Jane Usherwood, U21’s Secretary General, also commented: “Now in its fourth year, the U21 Rankings provide a valuable tool for policy makers and commentators who are interested in the contexts within which universities operate. Producing a ranking adjusted for levels of economic development as well as the overall results gives a real insight into the realities in which major universities around the world operate, not just members of Universitas 21 alone. We are pleased that so many ministries of education and other interested parties are now using this data to help guide debate about the role of higher education in their country.”


The full 2015 Ranking report and all data can be found by following the links below:

Ranking report and data: www.universitas21.com/link/rankings

Interactive map: www.universitas21.com/ranking/map

Data Comparison tool: www.universitas21.com/ranking