What’s the best university in Australia? Well… that depends. Are we talking about research? Or teaching? Universities generally don’t excel at both of these functions. A previous post explained that university rankings are primarily based on research activity. This is why high ranking universities aren’t necessarily the best at quality. So the question remains…
What the best university in Australia for teaching quality?
I once went on a mission to do find the answer to this question. I then wrote a newspaper article that was published in The Age newspaper. In the process of writing the article, I came up with a ranking system based on the number of government teaching awards earned by each university over the past three years (2012-2014).
Low and behold, most of the prestigious universities performed relatively poorly, while the less prestigious universities generally performed much better. This suggests that the best university in Australia (when it comes to teaching quality) isn’t necessarily the most prestigious one.
My complete ranking is listed below, with the most prestigious Australian universities (called the ‘Group of Eight‘) appearing in bold.
The best teaching university in Australia
Teaching accolades per staff member*
- Central Queensland University
- Federation University (University of Ballarat)
- James Cook University
- Queensland University of Technology
- University of the Sunshine Coast
- University of Tasmania
- Griffith University
- University of NotreDame Australia
- Southern Cross University
- Murdoch University
- Australian National University
- Curtin University
- University of Newcastle
- University of Western Sydney
- Macquarie University
- University of New England
- University of Queensland
- Flinders University
- Bond University
- University of South Australia
- Charles Sturt University
- Deakin University
- University of NSW
- University of Technology, Sydney
- University of Adelaide
- University of Wollongong
- University of Western Australia
- Swinburne University of Technology
- Edith Cowan University
- University of Sydney
- Victoria University
- Australian Catholic University
- La Trobe University
- Monash University
- University of Canberra
- University of Southern Queensland
- RMIT University
- University of Melbourne
- Charles Darwin University
*Based on awards and citations issued by the Office of Teaching and f.
All university ranking systems are flawed
All rankings are flawed in one way or another – including the ranking I devised above. They should not be used as a definitive guide for students deciding where to study.
Asking which is the best university in Australia is a bit like asking what’s the best place to eat in Sydney. The answer might look something like this:
Well… that pub over there serves a killer parma, but don’t bother with the vindaloo. That restaurant over there has the best oysters in town, but its waiters are snooty. Or if you’re into Chinese food, I know this joint you can get a mountain of delicious dumplings for six bucks…
Universities aren’t excellent at everything
Just like a restaurant, not everything on a university’s menu will be of the same quality (or to everyone’s taste). Here’s why.
Unis are divided into departments, faculties and schools. Some faculties and schools are richer than others. In theory, this means poorer faculties and schools may save money by cramming more students in to classes, cutting the number of subjects on offer, or making classes shorter. Some may also have worse facilities and have less money set aside to make sure course content is up to date.
One university might have a great science faculty, with awesome teachers and a broad array subject choices. Course content might also be up to date, crammed full of useful info on the latest theories and industry practices. On the other hand, the same uni’s arts faculty might have had it’s budget cut, causing subjects to be cancelled and teachers to be sacked. On the whole, this university might have a very high overall ranking , but if you’re looking to major in politics, history or philosophy, you might be somewhat underwhelmed by what is on offer.
At a different university, the law course might be very good, with two hour tutorials and less than 15 people to a class. Accross town, a competing university might only have hour tutorials which are as crowded as a Japanese commuter train in peak hour (check out this disturbing video depicting peopling literally being stuffed onto a train in Japan – a claustrophobic’s nightmare).
Are university rankings useful at all?
Well… no. Not really. However, the teaching quality ranking in this post does make one very important point: the most prestigious universities are not necessarily the best at teaching. So if university rankings aren’t useful, where else should you look for info in teaching quality?
Good Universities Guide
The Good Universities Guide is a somewhat useful tool. It gives universities and courses five star ratings based on feedback from students. It doesn’t say which the best university in Australia is, but it does provide some interesting ratings on things like teacher seniority, student engagement and other measures of quality. It’s a nice, simple way of comparing universities, but a word of caution – the Good Universities Guide also has its limitations.
Firstly, it’s important to know that the Guide’s ratings are a comparative measures – they don’t actually say much about actual quality. What do I mean by this? Let me explain.
The Guide’s five star ratings are calculated like this:
- Take all the unis in the land and rank them from best to worst based on graduate feedback;
- then, slice the list of ranked universities into five equal groups;
- and then give the top group five stars, and second top four stars, the middle group three stars, the second bottom two stars and the bottom group one star.
The result is a very user-friendly star rating… but it is a comparative measure only. All it says is that some unis are better or worse than others. It doesn’t say how good or how bad they are.
In other words, just because a university has one star, doesn’t mean it’s teaching is terrible. It just means it’s somewhat worse than the teaching quality at unis with two, three, four or five stars. The reverse is also true: just because university is rated five stars doesn’t mean it is five times better than a one star uni. It just means it’s somewhat better.
In other words, it’s a somewhat useful guide. Take it with a pinch of salt.
This is a new one and replaces the government’s My University website (good riddance – it was awfully difficult to use). QILT stands for “Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching”. It has some good looking graphs on student engagement and other relevant factors, and allows you to easily compare universities. I’m yet to wrap my head around QILT in depth but I’ll be taking a closer look over the next few weeks and will provide some advice soon.
- University rankings aren’t useful.
- Prestigious universities aren’t the best at teaching.
- The Good Universities Guide is a somewhat useful tool but also has its limitations.
- QILT is worth a look (but I’ll cover this in more depth soon).
The question you should be asking yourself is:
What’s the best university for you?
Uni101 has a a separate post on this very topic. You can read it here.