Is the ANU better than Stanford?

On the front page of The Australian‘s print edition today a headline reads:

ANU pips Stanford

The internet headline was a little less counter-intuitive, but the story the same. It’s a reference to the 2008 Times Higher Education rankings which puts the ANU at 16th in the world, and Stanford at 17th.

Now the ANU is a perfectly respectable university. But the THE rankings have been widely criticised, and results like this will not help the case for the defence.

The biggest criticism of the THE is their heavy reliance on subjective measures. 40% of the ranking is based on academic peer review, which is done by emailing tens of thousands of academics with an internet survey. The response rate is typically poor, and the response quality doubtful. One potential benefit of rankings is that use of objective information can correct impressionistic views of universities, but this method tends to reinforce the latter. The Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings use purely objective measures (though the weightings are subjective; I don’t think there is any way to make these objective). But while the THE rankings are dubious on this measure, this isn’t what’s dividing the ANU and Stanford. They both get the maximum score of 100.
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