Concern as university rankings continue to decline

 

IN A BLOW to the State’s international reputation in education, Ireland is not represented among the top 100 universities in the prestigious Times Higher Education rankings.

The new rankings also show a dramatic fall in the ranking of University College Dublin (UCD), down from 159 to 187, only just holding on to a top 200 place.

The news is better for Trinity College Dublin (TCD), up from 117 to 110, but the college’s failure to break back into the elite top 100 is disappointing.

A striking feature of the new list is how NUI Galway has jumped to third place among Irish universities. It is ranked at 336, up more than 30 places. Dublin City University and the University of Limerick do not feature in the top 400.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education rankings, said UCD’s performance must raise concern “with so many rising stars from other parts of the world, notably the Bric [Brazil, Russia, India and China] economies, chasing a place in the prestigious top 200 list.”

UCD president Dr Hugh Brady said it was “very disappointing” to see its ranking position fall. “Economic factors here are part of the reason, but we must also recognise that investment by universities in other countries is raising the level of competition internationally.”

While welcoming the improved performance of TCD, provost Dr Paddy Prendergast said it required resourcing at internationally competitive levels “for Trinity to sustain its position and increase further worldwide requires adequate investment in the university sector”.

Both UCD and TCD, Ireland’s largest universities, have seen a dramatic fall in their world rankings over recent years. Six years ago, TCD was ranked inside the top 50 colleges worldwide, while UCD was comfortably inside the top 100.

The relatively poor performance of the two colleges this year was not unexpected. In common with other Irish universities, they have been coping with a 6 per cent reduction in staff and a continuing funding crisis.

Inevitably, Ireland’s poor showing in the latest list will revive discussion about a possible UCD- TCD merger. Such a merger was backed by an international group of experts in a recent report for the Higher Education Authority.

The group, led by Frans Van Vught of the European Commission, said a merger would help to propel an Irish university into the world’s elite and boost recruitment of foreign students. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said the proposed merger was “neither feasible nor desirable”.

NUI Galway president Dr Jim Browne said the latest rankings represented good news for the university. “We have experienced huge cuts in overall funding at third-level in Ireland, while student numbers have continued to rise. Despite this, our university has gone against the tide to secure a marked improvement in these very competitive rankings.”

Overall, the California Institute of Technology has retained its place at the top of the World University Rankings for 2012-13.

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