Irish universities score top marks in new EU university ranking but devil in detail

DCU performs well in business links but low on artistic output

Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, presents the new international university ranking U-Multirank at the EU commission headquarters in Brussels today.Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/ EPA

Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, presents the new international university ranking U-Multirank at the EU commission headquarters in Brussels today.Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/ EPA

 

Irish higher education institutions have received top marks across a range of headings in a new EU-sponsored university ranking.

U-Multirank, which was launched today by the European Commission, aims to break the stranglehold of existing private publishers’ rankings which have been widely blamed for skewing the goals of higher education.

Unlike the three big international rankings - Shanghai, Times Higher Education and QS - U-Multirank avoids producing composite league tables.

Instead it allows students and other stakeholders to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of universities across different headings using an internet tool (www.umultirank.org).

Universities are graded in each of 30 different criteria on a five point scale from “A” (very good) to “E” (weak).

Data was taken from existing, published sources and complemented by further surveying of institutions which have agreed to participate in this first phase.

More than 850 higher education institutions from 70 countries are included, and organisers hope the scheme will become the dominant ranking internationally.

In Ireland, Trinity College Dublin is unsurprisingly identified as the leading research institution with A grades under the headings of citation rate, number of publications, top-cited papers and international joint publications.

UCD received two A grades and two B grades across the same four categories, DCU an A and three Cs and DIT two Bs, one C and one D.

TCD and UCD chose not to participate in the more detailed surveys, taking the “watch and see” approach of many universities globally.

But four Irish universities took part - UCC, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, DCU - and five institutes of technology - Dublin Cork, Galway-Mayo, Tallaght, and Letterkenny.

An analysis of DCU, for example, shows it scores well in both business studies and links to industry.

It receives an A grade for Masters students graduating on time and a B grade for the international orientation of Master programmes.

The university also gets A grades for patents and spinoff industries.

However, DCU scores poorly on artistic output, receiving an E grade, notwithstanding its school of communications.

Professor Dr Frans van Vught, of the Dutch Center for Higher Education Policy Studies, one of the lead partners of the consortium, said the ranking “goes beyond simplistic league tables” by allowing people to judge institutions across different criteria and not a predetermined, unifying formula.

His colleague Professor Frank Ziegele, from the Centre for Higher Education in Germany, pointed out that an initial analysis of the data showed that the existing league tables overlooked a number of high-performing institutions both in Europe and the US.

The researchers have also suggested there is a British or American bias in some of the rankings, pointing out that European universities fared better in measurements showing partnerships with business under U-Multirank.

While the ranking uses many existing indicators such as research citations, it has also designed new measures including art-related output, which counts such things as exhibitions and musical recitals.

Of six Irish institutions which were surveyed under this heading, University of Limerick, DIT and Letterkenny Institute of Technology received the highest mark, while DCU received the lowest.

Another new indicator is “interdisciplinary publications”, which measures the range of areas on which an institution is publishing.

Almost 90 per cent of institutions scored in very narrow band, with only 17 performing in the top bracket among them Tallaght Institute of Technology.

Interpretation of the data will be hotly contested and some universities have already complained that the data is subject to the same flaws as existing league tables.

But launching the plan, Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth said the ranking would “enable students to make more informed decisions about where to study and give us a more accurate picture of how universities perform.

“U-Multirank highlights many excellent performers that do not show up in current, research-focused, global rankings - including more than 300 universities that have never appeared in any world ranking until now.”

The 30 performance indicators cover five broad dimensions: teaching and learning, regional engagement, knowledge transfer, international orientation and research.

The second U-Multirank rankings will be released in March 2015. The academics behind it stress it is run on a not-for-profit basis, independent of the Commission, although it received €2 million in EU funding as start up capital.