Ireland will suffer if universities drop in rankings, MEP says

Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes issues warning ahead of new Times Higher Education list

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said Ireland’s reputation will take a ‘hammer blow’ if Irish universities continue to fall in global rankings. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said Ireland’s reputation will take a ‘hammer blow’ if Irish universities continue to fall in global rankings. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Ireland’s reputation will take a “hammer blow” if Irish universities continue to fall in global rankings, a Fine Gael MEP has warned.

Brian Hayes was speaking ahead of the publication on Wednesday night of the the latest set of the Times Higher Education’s world university rankings.

“We’ve already seen every university in Ireland, bar NUI Galway, fall down the table in the recent QS rankings,” he said.

“The Times Higher Education world university ranking is regarded as the most influential and is totally focused on research-intense universities,” he said.

“The omens are not good and we face the real possibility of having no university in the top 200.

“If our universities fall outside the elite top 200, our reputation as a global innovation and research centre would take a hammer blow.”

Mr Hayes said good rankings for Irish universities were essential in order to attract grants, donations and the best researchers.

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will also dramatically affect the Irish university research sector and its position in global rankings, he warned.

“Nearly all our EU-funded research projects are joint initiatives with UK universities,” he said.

“Until there is a co-ordinated national approach to tackling the impact of Brexit on our research funding, it is inevitable that our rankings will fall further.”

He has called for a “fourth-level forum” to be established to set out a clear message to the world about the country’s research potential. “We cannot expect ranking bodies to have faith in Irish research unless we set out how the loss of funding when UK universities leave the EU will be accounted for,” he said.

‘Urgent action’

The Irish Universities Association, which represents all of Ireland’s universities, has also called for urgent action to help prevent the continued slide of Irish institutes in global rankings.

The association’s chief executive, Ned Costello, warned earlier this month that the past decade of austerity was having a negative impact on the reputational component of the rankings.

“We can no longer hide from the corrosive effect which years of cutbacks are having on our higher-education system,” he said.

“At a time when we are more dependent than ever on the talent of our people for our economic future, we simply must invest in our universities.”

He said an immediate injection of third-level funding was required in the upcoming Budget, to allow for more lecturers and to restore quality in our system.

He also said the strong performances of Irish universities in some measures of the ranking were being undermined by the negative impact of underfunding on key indicators, such as the student:faculty ratio.