Universitas 21 (U21), the leading global network of research universities for the 21st century, has unveiled the Ranking of National Higher Education Systems for 2016.

The ranking, which is the only one in the world to assess the national education structure in its entire form, meets a longstanding need “to shift the discussion from the ranking of the world’s best universities, to the best overall systems”.

“The essential logic behind the development of national rankings is that it is the higher education system as a whole, not just research intensive universities, that matters for the economic and cultural development of a nation,” the report notes.

According to U21’s most recent table, which currently ranks the effectiveness of the HE sector in 50 different countries based on their resources, environment, connectivity and output, the United States boasts the world’s best higher education system overall, while Switzerland, Denmark, the UK and Sweden occupy second, third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.

While the U.S. managed to maintain last year’s lead, the UK also fared particularly well, rising four places from its 2015 position, from 8th place up to 4th. But overall, China claims the title for the most improved nation, rising four places into 30th due to continual growth in the region’s output rankings.

The largest drops in the rankings come from Canada, down three places from 6th into 9th, and Bulgaria, down five places to 48th due to a decline in its ranking for connectivity.

The bottom half of the Top 10 is occupied by Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Canada and Australia.

Turkey also fared particularly well, rising five places from 49th to 44th, largely due to the provision of improved data on resources.

When rankings of the four year period between 2013 and 2016 are compared, China shows the greatest overall improvement as it climbs 12 places in the rankings. South Africa shows the second-best improvement as it jumps a total of 9 places, and the UK comes next, climbing a total of 6 places.

Bulgaria and Serbia on the other hand, are nations that fared the worst, falling 10 and 7 places, respectively.

In line with last year’s rankings, the data was also compared against the values expected at each country’s level of economic development to create a separate set of results.

In terms of economic development, the UK’s HE sector comes out on top, followed by Serbia, then Denmark and Sweden in joint 3rd. Again, China displays an impressive performance; rising from last year’s 16th up to 5th, while the rest of the Top 10 slots are occupied by Finland, South Africa, Portugal, Canada and New Zealand.

When compared with the original 2012 rankings for levels of economic development, six countries now rank at least 15 places higher in U21’s most recent league table. These countries include, in order of improvement: Serbia, India, South Africa, China, Portugal and Brazil.

Click here to read the full report on the 2016 Ranking of Higher Education Systems according to Universitas 21.

Image via Flickr.

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