Staff cuts drag NZ universities down in world rankings

Author
Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Section
Education,
Publish Date
Thursday, 7 June 2018, 5:56AM

Staff cuts despite growing student numbers have dragged most New Zealand universities down in the latest world rankings.

The biggest six of the country's eight universities have all tumbled in the London-based QS rankings, which are regarded as the most important for attracting international students.

Only our two smallest universities, Waikato and Lincoln, have moved up the ranks.

Seven NZ universities were marked down this year on their academic reputation, based on asking 83,000 academics around the world to list the top universities in their fields.

Six declined in a survey asking 30,000 global employers which universities provided their most competent, innovative and effective graduates.

But New Zealand's worst result was on staff/student ratios.

"The increase in enrolments - and the decrease in faculty numbers - reported by the country's universities sees all eight receive a lower score for faculty/student ratio," QS said.

Universities NZ director Chris Whelan said this reflected a funding squeeze.

"Over the last 10 years we saw a relatively steep real decline in per-student funding in the first half, reversed slightly in the second half. In the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Budgets there were increases that were slightly ahead of CPI [consumers price index]," he said.

"But university costs go up about 1.5 times the CPI because CPI doesn't include salaries or construction costs or IT, which make up 80 per cent of our actual costs."

This year's Budget gave the universities no increase in per-student funding at all, the first nil increase in at least 17 years and a cut in real terms of $5 million to $10m for the University of Auckland alone.

Auckland is still easily New Zealand's top-ranked university, slipping only three places to 85th in the world, followed by Otago (175th), Victoria (221st), Canterbury (231st), Waikato (274th), Lincoln (317th), Massey (332nd) and AUT (464th).

Waikato University is the standout success this year, jumping 18 places overall and climbing into the top 100 (92nd) for citations per academic in international journals.

Its acting vice-chancellor Professor Alister Jones said the university had pursued a strategy of boosting international staff and students, encouraging research that "makes an impact" and building global links. Last year it became the first NZ university offering full degrees in China.

"The strategy is making sure that we are publishing in the appropriate places. That is making a difference," he said.

"Appointing the right people is also important in that process, and making sure that people are engaged in research that is making a difference."

The QS data shows that 41 per cent of Waikato academics hold foreign citizenship - a proportion that is even higher at Otago (60 per cent), Canterbury and AUT (both 47 per cent) and Victoria and Massey (both 45 per cent).

The worsening staff/student ratio in NZ universities was entirely due to cuts of 203 academics at Massey and 74 at Lincoln.

Massey communications director James Gardiner said staff were cut last year in science and health faculties, but the main reason for the big drop was that Massey excluded "non-research-active" staff this year.

Whelan said Lincoln also cut staff numbers and transferred the Telford farm training school to Masterton-based Taratahi Institute of Agriculture last year.

Staff numbers increased, and staff/student ratios improved slightly, at the other six universities.

The QS rankings include points for high proportions of foreign students, on the basis that they are a sign that a university is a desirable destination.

Ministry of Education data shows that international students at NZ universities increased by 38 per cent from 2008 to last year, while domestic students declined by 2 per cent.

International students now make up 29 per cent of all students at Lincoln, 19 per cent at Waikato, 18 per cent at Auckland and AUT, 17 per cent at Massey, 16 per cent at Canterbury, and 15 per cent at Otago and Victoria.

Whelan said the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, which split from the Times Higher Education rankings in 2009, are the main rankings used by international students in the major markets for NZ universities.

QS weightings

40% for reputation in survey of academics

20% for citations per academic in international journals

20% for staff/student ratio

10% for reputation in survey of employers

5% for proportion of foreign academics

5% for proportion of foreign students

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