Times Higher Education Ranking: USP’S Top 10% Claim Is Over The Top

There was much excitement on the campuses of The University of the South Pacific (USP) when the latest Times Higher Education University Rankings were published, and the University of the
10 Sep 2021 10:30
Times Higher Education Ranking: USP’S Top 10% Claim Is Over The Top

There was much excitement on the campuses of The University of the South Pacific (USP) when the latest Times Higher Education University Rankings were published, and the University of the South Pacific was included on the prestigious international list for the very first time.

Understandably the vice-chancellor and the president wanted to trumpet the fact, but their suggestion that USP is now among the top ten percent of universities worldwide is a little over the top.

There are more than 20,000 universities across the world, but the famous Times Higher Education rankings include fewer than 1700 of them.

And with USP rated in the band from 1000 to 1200, even the poorest statistician can probably work out that the university is not in the top ten percent of the latest rankings, let alone in the world.


Over Generous Interpretation
However Phil Baty, Times Higher Education’s Chief Knowledge Officer, says an over generous statistical interpretation should not detract from USP’s achievement.

“Being ranked in the top 1200 in the world is still a really strong achievement.”

“The Times Higher criteria are pretty demanding, we have 13 performance metrics, so in that sense, it’s a fantastic achievement.”

“But we’re not really looking at all 20,000 institutions, we’re narrowing it down to a group of around three or four thousand research universities,” Mr Baty has told Pacific Beat.

However as an international authority on university performance and strategy.

Phil Baty is urging USP to be cautious with their future marketing strategies.

“There was a bit of a set of challenges in Australia a few years ago actually, I think some Advertising Standards Authority said unless we are judging all 20,000, it doesn’t mean that you’re in the top ten percent, because lots of different universities or higher education institutions have different missions, different goals.”


News of USP’s debut in the Times Higher Education rankings comes at a time when the government of Tonga is actually planning to open the country’s own university, even though USP already has a campus in Nuku’alofa.

But Tongan Student President, Robin Napa’a, believes there is room for both.

“Tonga Uni and USP can exist side by side….the option for higher education would be more available for the people here in Tonga to further their education and expand their knowledge,” Ms Napa’a said.

And as the pandemic rolls on, the student leader says taking away the need to travel would be appealing for many Tongan students right now.

“USP has courses that are only offered on the main campus, so those students are required to go to Fiji to finish their degrees,” she said.

“But if Tonga University were to offer those courses here, then many students would prefer to stay with their families and study in an environment that is familiar to them.”


Governance crisis
USP’s appearance on the Times Higher Education list is all the more remarkable because it comes after months of controversy over the status of Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and a governance crisis centred on allegations of serious mismanagement.

While his researchers were well aware of the problems at USP, Phil Baty says they weren’t a factor in assessing the institution’s ranking.

However, he believes they could yet impact on its burgeoning reputation, particularly now that the university’s biggest donor Fiji has withdrawn its funding.


“We do run a reputation survey.”

“So we survey 22,000 academics across the world to give their judgments on the university’s reputation for excellence in their specialist area.”

“So it is fair to say USP hasn’t done very, very well on our reputation metrics, that may possibly be influenced by the turmoil.”

“(But) when we look at the rankings, we really do just look hard and clean at the data.”

“So as long as the students are still being taught, as long as the university is still producing research into the global journals, issues of governance don’t really creep into the immediate evaluations.”

And on that basis, Phil Baty says USP can make huge mileage out of its newfound recognition, but perhaps with a slightly more modest headline.



Richard Ewart has been with the ABC since 2008, previously with Australia Network, SBS Radio, hosting morning news on News Radio 938 in Singapore and 15 years with BBC radio and television. This piece appeared on the ABC Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat focusing on the Pacific region.  The show features interviews with leaders, newsmakers, and people who make the Pacific beat.


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