2020 THE SDGs for Australian Universities

April 23, 2020
The rankings game can be a farce in statistics but perception does count. The ‘2020 Impact Rankings’, on the measures of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been provided by the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings tables.   There are seventeen measures with the overall ranking. My analysis in this paper […]

The rankings game can be a farce in statistics but perception does count. The ‘2020 Impact Rankings’, on the measures of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been provided by the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings tables.

 

There are seventeen measures with the overall ranking. My analysis in this paper focuses on Australian universities, and the ‘history, philosophy & theology’ category, for the top ten.

 

Dramatic Rises for Australian Universities

 

The statistics is odd in many places. That the University of Sydney has done so well in the category of ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ would cause many Australians to scratch their heads in wonderment. Either Australian universities are genuinely making world-breaking innovations and larger social-environmental investments or there are curious mathematical valuing happening. Only one Australian university declined in the positional movement between 2019 and 2020, and that was only a shift of one position downwards (Western Sydney for the categories of ‘Gender Equality’ and ‘Reduced Inequalities’). The following tables show the dramatic rises for Australian universities in the positional movement between 2019 and 2020:

 

RISES BETWEEN 2019-2020CategoryPositional Movement
James CookPartnerships for the GoalsOver 100
RMITOverall Ranking72
RMITDecent Work and Economic Growth48
WollongongDecent Work and Economic Growth45
Western SydneyResponsible Consumption and Production32
UNSW SydneyResponsible Consumption and Production31
Western SydneyPartnerships for the Goals28
SydneyOverall Ranking23
Australian Catholic UniversityGood Health and Well-Being17
TasmaniaClimate Change15
RMITReduced Inequalities12
Western SydneyOverall Ranking8
SydneyDecent Work and Economic Growth4
University of South AustraliaQuality Education2
Edith CowanQuality Education2
WollongongReduced Inequalities1

 

It is a mystery why certain universities, particularly Griffith University with a strong commitment to social justice in its governance and curriculum, and the University of Melbourne with its well-known leadership in the field of education for social improvement, are not included in any of the tables. This would greatly distort the rankings. We see the predominance of universities in New South Wales across the scores (below), and the universities of Western Sydney and Sydney frequently lead the Australian lists. For Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology predominates. One wonders about the mathematical valuing in the statistics. Queensland University of Technology is classified as offering ‘history, philosophy, and theology’ but that is not really true for 2020, with such a potential argument for inclusion based on thin historical links where QUT had destroyed it humanities faculty in the range of research and teaching offerings, deliberately, as a policy of being a place of technological higher education. Charles Sturt University has more justification for being included among universities that offer ‘history, philosophy, and theology’ and yet it is excluded from the category.

 

Overall Ranking

 

Four Australian universities are placed in the top ten – Sydney (2nd for 2020; 25th for 2019, a rise of 23 positions), Western Sydney (3rd for 2020; 11th for 2019, a rise of 8 positions), La Trobe (4th for 2020; not ranked for 2019), and RMIT (10th for 2020; 82nd for 2019, a rise of 72 positions). University of Auckland leads the overall ranking.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for overall ranking are Sydney (2nd for 2020), Western Sydney (3rd for 2020), La Trobe (4th for 2020), and Monash (17th and equal for 2020).

 

Australian universities overall have done well, but there are puzzling or troubling scores in the different categories.

 

  1. No Poverty

 

No Australian universities are placed in the top ten. Arizona State University (Tempe) leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Wollongong (14th for 2020), Sydney (32nd for 2020), Western Sydney (38th and equal for 2020), and Queensland University of Technology (100 for 2020).

 

This is the worst category in performance for Australian universities. It ought to trouble the Australian government and the executive-governing powers in the sector.

 

  1. Zero Hunger

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Sydney (5th for 2020; no data for 2019).  Nanjing Agriculture University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Sydney (5th for 2020), Queensland (21st and equal for 2020), Tasmania (24th for 2020), and Western Sydney (43rd for 2020).

 

This is the second worst category in performance for Australian universities. Again, it ought to trouble the Australian government and the executive-governing powers in the sector.

 

  1. Good Health and Well-Being

 

Two Australian universities are placed in the top ten – La Trobe (2nd for 2020; no rank for 2019), and Australian Catholic University (8th for 2020; 25th for 2019, a rise of 17 positions).  RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are La Trobe (2nd for 2020), Australian Catholic University (8th for 2020), Newcastle (13th for 2020), and Sydney (14th and equal for 2020).

 

The good ranking for La Trobe and Australian Catholic University is not surprising. Both university systems have a history in governance and research-teaching on the basis of ethical traditions. See comment, though, on measure no. 10.

 

  1. Quality Education

 

Two Australian universities are placed in the top ten – University of South Australia (6th for 2020; 8th for 2019, a rise of 2 positions), and Edith Cowan (9th for 2020; 11th for 2019, a rise of 2 positions). Aalborg University (Denmark) leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are University of South Australia (6th and equal for 2020),  Edith Cowan (9th for 2020), Victoria (12th for 2020), and Western Sydney (16th for 2020).

 

There are serious questions here. Edith Cowan’s reputation in teaching is well-deserved, and University of South Australia can demonstrate high quality technical education. However, it is extremely odd that the biggest universities for education faculties are not to be seen in the top listing.

 

  1. Gender Equality

 

Three Australian universities are placed in the top ten – La Trobe (1st for 2020; no rank for 2019), Western Sydney (2nd for 2020; 1st for 2019, a decline of 1 position), and Charles Sturt (6th for 2020; no rank for 2019).  La Trobe University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are La Trobe (1st for 2020), Western Sydney (2nd for 2020), Sydney (18th for 2020), and Edith Cowan (21st for 2020).

 

This is clearly an area for great improvement for the Australian higher education sector, even if several universities have done very well.

 

  1. Clean Water and Sanitation

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Western Sydney (3rd for 2020; no data for 2019).  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Western Sydney (3rd for 2020), Wollongong (16th for 2020), Queensland University of Technology (25th for 2020), and Tasmania (26th for 2020).

 

The results in ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’ are either very oddly measured, or, if it reflects reality, it is extremely troubling for Australian water security.

 

  1. Affordable and Clean Energy

 

Four Australian universities are placed in the top ten – UNSW Sydney (4th for 2020; no data for 2019), Monash (7th for 2020; no data for 2019), Queensland (8th for 2020; no data for 2019), and Newcastle (9th for 2020; no data for 2019).  Tongji University (China) leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are UNSW Sydney (4th for 2020), Monash (7th for 2020), Queensland (8th for 2020), and Newcastle (9th for 2020).

 

The results in this measure give greater optimism for Australian environmental sustainability, but without reasons for complacency.

 

  1. Decent Work and Economic Growth

 

Four Australian universities are placed in the top ten – Sydney (3rd for 2020; 7th for 2019, a rise of 4 positions), RMIT (5th for 2020; 53rd for 2019, a rise of 48 positions), Monash (8th for 2020; no rank for 2019), and Wollongong (10th for 2020; 65th for 2019, a rise of 45 positions).  Auckland University of Technology leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Sydney (3rd for 2020), Monash (8th for 2020), Wollongong (10th and equal for 2020), and La Trobe (13th and equal for 2020).

 

The thinking about employment and economic growth for higher education policy is skewed toward technology innovation. The thinking greatly lack sociological perspectives on how human beings live life and what they value. Those measures rely on a sophistication of thought in history, philosophy, and theology. Such sophistication is something that ‘number-crunchers’ too often lack.

 

  1. Industry Innovations and Infrastructure

 

No Australian universities are placed in the top ten.  The University of Tokyo leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Sydney (26th for 2020), Wollongong (33rd and equal for 2020), Monash (44th for 2020), and Macquarie (101-200 group for 2020).

 

This is the one measure that clearly shows that Australian higher education policy has grossly failed in the last 25 years. ‘Industry Innovations and Infrastructure’ goes to the heart of the national policy, and while the humanities were grossly neglected, there has been no technological pay-off.  If you rob ‘Peter’ to pay ‘Paul’, Paul will not become richer. It is idiocy of binary-thinking policy-makers.

 

  1. Reduced Inequalities

 

Four Australian universities are placed in the top ten – RMIT (1st for 2020; 13th for 2019, a rise of 12 positions), Western Sydney (3rd for 2020; 2nd for 2019, a decline of 1 position), Charles Sturt (4th for 2020; no rank for 2019), and Wollongong (5th for 2020; 6th for 2019, a rise of 1 position).  RMIT University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Western Sydney (3rd for 2020), Wollongong (5th for 2020), Monash (13th and equal for 2020), and University of South Australia (15th for 2020).

 

In the efforts to reduce inequalities, it is not surprising that places like Western Sydney and Wollongong stand high. Education is an equaliser and, although there is great room for improvement, Australian universities are generally making the effort. It would be interesting to see who is at the bottom of the list: Central Queensland University (201-300 group for 2020), Queensland University of Technology (101-200 group for 2020), Australian Catholic University (101-200 group for 2020) and Charles Darwin University (93 and equal for 2020). The result for Australian Catholic University is surprising, so, maybe, not is all well with its ethical tradition.

 

  1. Sustainable Cities and Communities

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Sydney (2nd for 2020; no rank for 2019).  Simon Fraser University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Sydney (2nd for 2020), Queensland (12th for 2020), Monash (13th for 2020), and Tasmania (14th for 2020).

 

Sydney is not a sustainable city. Melbourne and Brisbane have led the sustainable city rankings in the past. So what is going on here?

 

  1. Responsible Consumption and Production

 

Two Australian universities are placed in the top ten – UNSW Sydney (1st for 2020; 32nd for 2019, a rise of 31 positions), and Western Sydney (5th for 2020; 37th for 2019, a rise of 32 positions).  University of New South Wales (Sydney) leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are UNSW Sydney (1st for 2020), Western Sydney (5th for 2020), Wollongong (22nd for 2020), and Sydney (49th and equal for 2020).

 

Sydney’s and New South Wales’ leading results on responsible consumption and production, one wonders? Is this measure merely a demographic instrument?

 

  1. Climate Change

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Tasmania (3rd for 2020; 18th for 2019, a rise of 15 positions).  University of British Columbia leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Tasmania (3rd for 2020), Newcastle (76th for 2020), La Trobe (101-200 group for 2020), and Macquarie (101-200 group for 2020).

 

This is another clear indication for the failure of Australian government policy in the last 25th years. Something must be going right in Tasmania, though.

 

  1. Life Below Water

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Western Sydney (4th for 2020; no data for 2019).  University of British Columbia leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Western Sydney (4th for 2020), Tasmania (11th for 2020), Wollongong (22nd and equal for 2020), and La Trobe (25th for 2020).

 

Note that Queensland, with its World Heritage ranked Great Barrier Reef, is missing.

 

  1. Life on Land

 

Two Australian universities are placed in the top ten – Western Sydney (2nd for 2020; no data for 2019), and Sydney (5th for 2020; no data for 2019).  University of Leicester leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Western Sydney (2nd for 2020), Sydney (5th for 2020), La Trobe (17th and equal for 2020), and Macquarie (23rd for 2020).

 

Ranking for ‘Life on Land’ has fallen to the most densely populated areas of Australia. Again (with measure no. 12), one suspect that we have a demographic instrument rather than a reasonable statistical judgement.

 

  1. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

 

One Australian university is placed in the top ten – Sydney (10th for 2020; no rank for 2019).  American University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are Sydney (10th for 2020), Western Sydney (19th for 2020), Queensland University of Technology (20th and equal for 2020), and Victoria (33rd and equal for 2020).

 

Without the participation of universities like Griffith University and the University of Melbourne, the results are a mockery in measuring ‘peace, justice and institutional strength’. Sydney,  Western Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, and Victoria University are certainly strong institutions in the corporate sense, but much of the reputation is historical in the areas of peace and justice. Where are the peace studies at QUT now?

 

  1. Partnerships for the Goals

 

Three Australian universities are placed in the top ten – James Cook (1st for 2020; grouped in the 101-200 position for 2019, a rise of over 100 positions), Western Sydney (6th for 2020; 34th for 2019, a rise of 28 positions), and Sydney (8th for 2020; no rank for 2019).  James Cook University leads in this measure.

 

Filtering for those universities offering history, philosophy, and theology, the list of top Australian universities for this measure are James Cook (1st for 2020), Western Sydney (6th and equal for 2020), Sydney (8th and equal for 2020), and La Trobe (17th for 2020).

 

The last measure is the most alarming for the mathematical valuing in the statistics. How could James Cook University move over 100 positions to first place, in just twelve month? James Cook University is an excellent university, particularly for the field of Queensland history. But who are these partners to meet the sustainable development goals? After all, this is North Queensland!

 

 

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.

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