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From the Vice Chancellor

Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd.

Anyone looking for evidence of the escalating competition within the international higher education sector need look no further than the most recent round of global university rankings.

The annual 2013 QS World University rankings were released earlier this month, and immediately sparked the now traditional debate over the merit and methodology of this and similar ratings mechanisms.

From UniSA’s perspective, we remain within the QS top 350 which means we continue to be ranked among the top three per cent of more than 10,000 institutions worldwide.

This represents a significant achievement given the comparative youth of our university – we are one of three Australian institutions aged under 25 to be ranked within the top 350 by the QS survey.

The importance of historic pedigree in rankings tables cannot be overstated. A look at the 2013 QS results show that the average age of institutions in the world’s top 100 is 180 years, while the average age of the top seven Australian institutions is 101.

What is also clear is that the scoring across a range of criteria – some of which is largely beyond the influence of individual institutions – that is required to maintain or improve position in the top league of global universities gets higher and higher with each passing year.

While UniSA improved or maintained its score in key areas of the 2013 QS rankings, including employer reputation, citations per faculty, student:staff ratio and international staff indicators, our overall standing dropped.

This highlights the speed at which other institutions in Australia and around the world are moving ahead, and further underscores the importance of the action items detailed in Crossing the Horizon.

When I spoke at recent round of campus meetings to launch our five-year strategic action plan, I showed a slide of a professional cycling peloton with an arrow that notionally identified UniSA as being somewhere in the middle of that highly competitive pack.

The latest QS rankings confirm that supposition. We were ranked equal 16th out of 25 Australian institutions in the top 600.

But this result also enables us to see how diligently the others – not just in Australia but in the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and, increasingly, across Asia – are pedalling to get ahead.

There are measures outlined in Crossing the Horizon that directly address some of the objective scoring criteria used to compile global rankings. Our stated aim to hire 100 new professors will influence our staff:student ratio score, and further expanding our industry-linked internships programs should also be reflected in our employer reputation total.

What’s more, a number of these items feed directly into other areas of strategic policy changes that are imminent in the rapidly evolving higher education landscape.

For example, our ambition to produce even more globally capable students through an increased range of study abroad and international industry placement opportunities will complement the newly-elected Federal Government’s foreshadowed commitment to its New Colombo Plan.

That five-year initiative aims to award scholarships to undergraduate students aged under 22 and enable them to undertake study and internships with businesses and NGOs throughout our region.

This will help to not only ensure we foster closer, deeper person-to-person ties throughout the Asia-Pacific but will also enhance the work-readiness of our graduates so they can better compete with their peers from our region, and from further afield.

According to Universities Australia, the number of Australian students who travel overseas for study has doubled in the past five years, but it remains at around only 13 per cent of our total undergraduate population so there is considerable scope to lift that number.

While the success of many of the 50-plus programs and initiatives detailed in Crossing the Horizon might not deliver immediate or demonstrable results to our global rankings scores, they have been specifically designed to further raise our international visibility and augment our marketplace presence.

And that, more so than any standing within league tables or rankings charts, is the result on which we must focus.

Professor David Lloyd
Vice Chancellor and President