2014 CWTS Leiden World Rankings of Australian institutions provides refreshingly transparent approach


Known to many as one of the most reputable university rankings, the 2014 CWTS Leiden World Rankings features no less than 23 Australian institutions in its run-down of the top 750 global academic centres. Emerging from the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University in the Netherlands, the methodology used generally tends to favor research excellence, collaboration, and paper citations. In practice the Leiden system could not be more different from many of the populist tables, such as QS World and US News, and as such has garnered a wealth of support from maligned institutions that have found their global standing improved by the CWTS findings.

Due to the relative transparency of the Leiden approach, the team behind the rankings is often the first to admit the inconclusiveness and shortcomings of the methodology, which seems to be tweaked year upon year to respond to inconsistencies in the previous year’s data. As such, it is a unique quirk of the Leiden team that they do not allow for a comparative analytic showing the previous year’s ranking. This is to discourage comparing results to previous methodologies that have since been altered. Their integrity and humility should be acknowledged, but the latest incarnation of their findings is not without its faults. Due to their privileging of English-language materials as the basis of the data, the distance (both geographic and figurative) between Australian universities and those in the US and the UK means that institutions down under are likely to suffer in the current metrics.

Generally, Australian universities fare pretty well in most global hierarcies, but the Leiden Rankings are a notable exception due to the stress on research-led indicators. The confederation of top Australian universities, the Group of Eight, has responded to the somewhat disappointing findings by remarking that the Leiden Rankings, “capture only knowledge discovery not its translation.” With that in mind, the Leiden 2014 top 10 for Australia with global positioning stated in brackets, is as follows:

1 (104) Australian National University

2 (123) University of Melbourne

3 (137) University of Queensland

4 (145) Monash University

5 (158) James Cook University

6 (165) University of Technology Sydney

7 (197) University of New South Wales

8 (219) University of Adelaide

9 (245) University of Newcastle

10 (250) University of Sydney

The findings reveal not a single Australian institution in the global top 100, but reveal a notable attendance in the subsequent 100, with 7 Australian institutions featuring in the top 200. As an arbiter of information on research impact, the result is not such a positive one overall. However, if individual disciplines and fields are taken into account the picture becomes much more impressive. The University of Technology Sydney, an institution that rarely features in other tables, has been found 4th in the world in the field of medical sciences; that’s just 1 place above Harvard. However, this anomaly is due primarily to citation impact relative to the size of the institution. While critics say the data is inconclusive and can be reconfigured to produce almost any reading, these instances still provide a much-needed boon and influx of publicity to universities conducting valuable research.