Australian and New Zealand universities dominate Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2020

Leading the way on activities that promote the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

23 April 2020

Bec Crew

Phil Walter/Getty Images

A University of Auckland student attends the annual graduation march through the city's central streets. Behind her, another parade participant waves a Tongan flag. 

The University of Auckland in New Zealand holds the top spot in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2020 for the second year in a row, ahead of more than 800 institutions from around the world.

The results, which take into account an institution’s positive social and economic impact, highlight Australia’s strength in this area: Australian universities occupy 4 places in the top 10, the most of any country. Institutions from China (Tongji University) and Brazil (University of São Paulo) are the only universities from developing economies to break into the top 20.

The impact rankings measure a university’s performance in achieving the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include targets such as climate action, gender equality, and the eradication of poverty.

According to THE, these are the first international rankings to use such criteria.

While universities in wealthy countries occupy the highest ranks, as might be expected, the metrics reflect more diversity than more traditional metrics such as global reputation and research quality, because activities that promote sustainability both locally and internationally are more in reach of younger institutions with less funding.

“A number of top 100 spots are held by universities from countries and regions that have never appeared in the upper echelons of the traditional* THE* world rankings before like Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico,” Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE said in a press release.

Below is a breakdown of the leading institutions:

This year, THE has also released an interactive data visualization (see screenshot below) that maps the results across the 89 participating countries and regions. You can click on each country to access a list of the top-ranked universities, as well as sorting by country income level.

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2020 map

This is the second year THE has released its Impact Rankings, and the University of Auckland has topped the list on both occasions.

According to the university, it was ranked in the top 25% for each of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that it was engaged in, with particular strengths in Goal 14, Life Below Water (2nd); Goal 15, Life on Land (equal 3rd); Goal 3, Good Health and Wellbeing (4th).

In 2019, the top 10 included 3 institutions from Canada, 2 from Sweden, and 2 from the United Kingdom, Australia’s ascendancy knocked both Swedish institutions and two Candaian universities from the top 10 in the 2020 rankings. In 2019, the highest ranking from an Australian university was Western Sydney University, ranked 11th.


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