Irish universities still struggling in world rankings


LEADING UNIVERSITIES here are continuing to struggle in the latest World University Rankings, published this morning.

TCD is the only Irish university to be ranked in the top 100 and it is down two places, to 67. UCD is up marginally to 131 but it has again failed to make it into the elite top 100.

Five years ago, TCD was ranked inside the elite top 50 and UCD was comfortably inside the top 100 in various international league tables. Among other colleges, UCC is down marginally to 190 while NUI Galway and DCU are both slightly up, to 287 and 324 respectively.

University presidents had been bracing themselves for even worse news in the latest rankings. In the past two years, the higher education sector has accommodated record numbers of students with much depleted resources.

The disappointing results are certain to reopen the debate about higher education funding. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has signalled that the student contribution will increase to €3,000 by 2015 – but even this will do little to close the funding gap between Irish universities and their key international competitors.

While there is little overall movement in the rankings for Ireland, QS – which compiles the rankings – is not optimistic these will move significantly upward in the short to medium term.

It points out how all seven Irish universities and the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) have lost ground in one key area – their reputation among employers.

The compilers warn that the reputation of most Irish colleges is also being undermined by the 6 per cent cut in staff numbers which has pushed up the staff/students ratio. Employer reputation and staff/student ratio make up 30 per cent of the ranking methodology.

Ben Sowter, head of research at QS, said last night that prolonged drops in staff/student ratio were “likely to have long-term detrimental effects on the reputation of Irish institutions as well as their position in the QS World University Rankings”.

The new rankings could also reopen the debate about closer links between Ireland’s two top-ranked colleges, TCD and UCD. While both colleges have established a research merger, some senior education figures believe still closer co-operation is needed to boost Ireland’s international reputation in education.

TCD provost Prof Paddy Prendergast said cuts to higher education funding at a time of increased global investment were having a direct impact on Irish rankings.

UCD president Dr Hugh Brady said the university had solidified its status among the top 200 worldwide. He gave credit to staff who, despite budgetary pressures, are producing world-class research. UCD’s citations (ie the level of reference to a research paper by academics from other universities) rose by over 35 per cent.

Rankings for the other Irish colleges are DIT: 451-500, down from 401-500; UL 451-500, unchanged and NUI Maynooth, 501-550 also unchanged.

At the top, MIT has overtaken Cambridge University as the world’s best university, pushing the five-times top-ranked Harvard University into third place.

While the accuracy of these rankings is often questioned, they are a key resource used to attract international students. Irish colleges have been seeking to recruit international students, in part to close the current funding shortfall, but the latest rankings will do little to bolster these efforts.

The QS World University Rankings is an annual league table of the world’s top 700 universities. The rankings are based on four key pillars – research, teaching, employability and internationalisation.