Sydney, where have we gone wrong?
Melbourne not only thrashes us as the world's most liveable city, ranked number one by the Economist Intelligence Unit for two years running compared with our number seven, but its universities outperform ours in research too, according to new federal government analysis.
The Excellence in Research for Australia evaluation of research performance in Australian universities takes into account more than 60,000 staff, $8.7 billion in external research funding and 413,000 publications and other research outputs. Expert panels rated each research active discipline at each university on a five point scale, where one is well below world standard, three is at world standard and five is well above world standard. The research is used as an aid in determining the allocation of some federal funding.
Victorian universities, mostly in the state's capital, lay claim to research strengths in no less than 40 subject areas, from astronomical and space sciences to information systems, communications technologies and linguistics.
New South Wales universities, by contrast, have only two-thirds the number of research fields classified as "strengths" by the Australian Research Council. Happily the state has research strengths in some areas Melbourne doesn't, such as geology, plant biology, immunology and visual arts and crafts.
Direct comparisons are difficult because differing criteria is used to define research "strengths". But the analysis shows that Australia's university research sector is increasing in size and productivity, with more researchers, more outputs and more outputs per researcher.
Nationally, the number of disciplines within universities with research rated at or above world standard has increased by 18 per cent, from 385 to 455 since the last analysis was carried out in 2010. Research outputs were up by 24 per cent even though the number of research staff increased by only nine per cent.
Despite improvement in most fields, some of the results were concerning. In the subject classification of commerce, management, tourism and services, offered by most universities, only 12 universities ranked world class or above for their research, and that was two less than in 2010, though these subjects have experienced big increases in student enrolments.
In education, also offered by most universities and also experiencing big enrolment boosts in the federal government's drive to widen university access for traditionally disadvantaged groups, only 16 universities could boast research at or above world standard.
Subjects which appear to have made the most improvement nationally include technology, where the number of universities doing research at or above world standard tripled from three to nine, language, communication and culture (21 to 28), law and legal studies (up from 17 to 22), biological sciences (23 to 28) and information and computing sciences (14 to 19). A huge increase in apparent research performance in the category of studies in human society, with the number of universities doing research at or above world standard up from 10 to 22, may reflect changes in measurement techniques.
Nationally, subjects in which there were no universities producing research "well above world standard" included built environment and design, food science, library and information studies, computer hardware (with only one university even at world standard) and demography and tourism.