Irish universities perform strongly in global social impact ranking

RCSI world number one under health and wellbeing category in Times rankings

Irish universities have performed strongly in a new global ranking which measures their social and economic impact.

The Times Higher Education on Wednesday published its “2020 impact rankings” which seeks to measure the social and economic impact of universities under the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was ranked number one in the world under the individual category of "good health and wellbeing" .

When measured against all 17 UN goals, it ranked between 101 and 200 universities out of almost 800 participating institutions.


Overall, Trinity was the highest ranked Irish university in 14th place across all 17 goals, up from 28th last year.

UCC was the next highest placed (32nd), followed by UCD (34th), NUI Galway (68th) and DCU (84th).

UL, Maynooth University and RCSI all ranked between 101 and 200, while TU Dublin ranked between 401 and 600.

The strong performance of Irish universities contrasts with the overall world university rankings, which measure factors such as funding, staff-student ratios and research capacity.

Funding crisis

Our top universities have been sliding down those league tables in recent years due to what college presidents say is a funding crisis, linked to declining State funding per student over the past decade.

The sector has warned that a major decline in international student numbers means Irish universities face a deeper financial black hole over the coming years.

Irish universities, meanwhile, warmly received the latest impact rankings as a sign of their positive contribution to society.

The RCSI - now officially known as the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences - said it was delighted with its top ranking in health.

Prof Cathal Kelly, RCSI chief executive, said it recognised the work of staff and students to improve health and wellbeing in the community at home and abroad.

“As our staff and students face the challenges of working and training in support of the health service during the Covid-19 pandemic, today’s recognition of our contribution to health and wellbeing is particularly meaningful for the RCSI community at this critical time for global health,” he said.

“Their contributions as expert health advisors, clinicians and volunteers on the frontline, and continued dedication to their studies in health sciences in challenging circumstances, exemplifies our commitment to health and wellbeing,” he said.

Trinity's dean of research, Professor Linda Doyle, said it was proud to rank so highly in making positive social and economic impacts.


“It underscores our continued commitment - across all areas of the University - to sustainability and equality of opportunity and underlines the impact we are having in making the planet a better place,” she said.

UCC President Prof Patrick O’Shea said and the UN’s sustainable development goals “form the framework for the innovations needed to reboot and retool our economy for long-term success and resilience.”

NUI Galway president Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said it was “heartening to see Irish universities taking such a lead role in addressing” these goals, which were arguably the most important targets for the world to meet.

DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said its high placing was a “ testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff and students and their commitment to our mission and values”.

Australasian universities have dominated the overall rankings, securing the top four spots.

The University of Auckland was ranked in first place followed by Australia's University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, and La Trobe University.

The rest of the top 10 is made up of the Arizona State University (Tempe) , University of Bologna, Canada’s University of British Columbia, University of Manchester, King’s College London and Australia’s RMIT University.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent