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High quality NZ universities again ranked amongst world’s best

22 September 2016 | media

Once again all New Zealand’s universities have been ranked among the best in the world, with five universities improving their rankings and three achieving the same rank as last year, in this year’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings develops international university performance tables by judging the best global universities across their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Times Higher Education has ranked all eight New Zealand universities in the top 600 in the world.  The University of Auckland remains New Zealand's top ranked institution, improving from joint 172nd to joint 165th position, followed by the University of Otago (201-250).  The University of Canterbury improved 50 places to rank at 351-400, equal with Victoria University of Wellington. The University of Waikato retained the same rank (401-500), and was joined by Massey which improved 100 places, and Lincoln University, which joined the top THE rankings for the first time. Auckland University of Technology also improved 100 places to 501-600.

Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, says, “These are extraordinary results considering just how competitive global university education has become.  They mirror the QS rankings released earlier this month, where six of our universities improved their rankings and all were ranked within the world’s top 3% of universities in the world.”

He says all eight universities have worked incredibly hard to lift or retain their rankings in this highly competitive global sector.

“New Zealand’s university sector has worked relentlessly to enhance teaching and research activities, to increase their international relationships and profile, and to provide their graduates with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce and in life.” 

Vice-Chancellors acknowledge Government’s increased funding for teaching and research in the last two years says Chris Whelan.  Government has increased funding to universities by $90 million over the past two years – a 2.5% increase in funding.

While this has yet to impact on current rankings, Chris Whelan says the additional funding will greatly assist universities to hold or build on current rankings.  He notes new research funding announced this year will also be particularly useful, given rankings are heavily weighted towards measuring a university’s research quality and impact.

“However, this is only starting to reverse a background of low-per student funding by international standards.  Funding has lagged 10% behind the real increase in costs in the past decade alone.  Over that time, universities dropped continually in the rankings as staff to student ratios were cut and universities struggled to maintain the quality of teaching and research.  In the five years before 2016, universities dropped an average of 28 places in the rankings.

“The increase in funding in the past two years has not been enough to relieve the significant financial pressure facing the university sector, but it has helped the sector address some of the most pressing needs and will assist universities in lifting the quality of both teaching and research necessary to maintain or grow rankings in future.”

Chris Whelan points out that the rise in rankings has been accompanied by a lift in the number of international students coming to study in New Zealand. 

“Over the past two years, numbers of students studying in New Zealand universities have increased by 4% - bringing another 1071 students to this country.”

He points to new NZIER research which says that each international student spends an average of 3.5 years in New Zealand and typically spends around $196,000 over that period on tuition costs, accommodation, food, entertainment and seeing the country.  NZIER calculates that for each $1m that is spent by international students in New Zealand, GDP increases by $1.6m through flow on effects. 

“That means the $90 million investment in university teaching and research will support universities in maintaining another $335m of income for New Zealand annually. 

“Investing in universities has a great return for New Zealand as a whole.”

The rankings also come with a warning for New Zealand.  Phil Baty, of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, warns, “New Zealand will have to watch out for Asia’s continuing ascent.”

Baty goes on to say, “New Zealand is a key research partner for many Asian universities so the nation can capitalise on the region’s success, although it may find it harder to attract top Asian students and academics. …New Zealand’s success at the top of the ranking cannot be guaranteed in the long-term while more of Asia’s leading universities soar to join the world elite.”

Chris Whelan says Asian governments recognise that a well-educated labour force is needed for long-term economic development, and are substantially increasing their investment. 

“Universities make a major economic contribution to this country and are key players in many initiatives to lift economic and social outcomes.  We call on this Government to recognise that investing in its universities is an investment in the economic and social prosperity of New Zealand and all New Zealanders.”




RANK 2016–17

RANK 2015–16




University of Auckland



University of Otago



University of Canterbury



Victoria University of Wellington



Lincoln University



Massey University



University of Waikato



Auckland University of Technology

Copyright Times Higher Education 2016

The full results and analysis are at


Note to editors:

Universities New Zealand has identified a potentially misleading / technically incorrect paragraph in the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings media release for New Zealand, which they have been advised of.

The Times Higher Education's paragraph currently reads: ““The rankings data show that the country’s universities are highly internationalised, drawing in top international talent and collaborating with scholars from across the world. The share of public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of total public expenditure is also the highest across OECD countries at 5.2 per cent. Similarly, public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP is among the highest across these nations, reaching 1.7 per cent.”

While the paragraph doesn’t give the source, we assume it is OECD Education at a Glance OECD Indicators 2015, Table B4.1. (Note: The 2016 OECD report was released last week which updated this figure to 1.6%)

Please note :

1.   The implication as written that universities = tertiary education, when a share of that funding goes to non-universities (larger in NZ than many other countries).

2.   The data relate to direct public expenditure on educational institutions plus public subsidies to households1 and other private entities. However, the THE paragraph says this is public expenditure only. Footnote 1 in Table B4.1 makes it clearer “Public expenditure presented in this table includes public subsidies to households for living costs, which are not spent in educational institutions.”  

New Zealand has a high proportion of its public expenditure going into student loans, allowances, scholarships and grants. The Ministry of Education breaks down the 1.7% making it clear the impact of those transfers to households in the analysis, changing the conclusion quite significantly: New Zealand's public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP (1.2%) was equal to the OECD average (1.2%). The percentage was lower than that of the United States (1.4%), equal to the United Kingdom (1.2%), and higher than Australia (0.9%) and Ireland (1.0). Source OECD.

We have asked THE to amend the wording to ensure accuracy.  Eg  “The share of public expenditure on all forms of tertiary education as a percentage of total public expenditure is also the highest across OECD countries at 5.2 per cent. Similarly, public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP (including public subsidies to households) is among the highest across these nations, reaching 1.7 per cent.