Low rankings for Irish universities ‘a disaster and inevitable’

President of NUI Galway says a focus on research and teaching has paid off

Aerial photo of NUI Galway Quadrangle. NUIG was the only Irish university to move up in the rankings of the world’s top 200 universities.

Aerial photo of NUI Galway Quadrangle. NUIG was the only Irish university to move up in the rankings of the world’s top 200 universities.


The standing of Irish universities in the world rankings has been described as a disaster and inevitable by Mike Jennings, general secretary of Irish Federation of University Teachers.

The QS World University Rankings2016/17 published on Tuesday show a drop in ranking by all Irish universities except for NUI Galway.

Trinity College Dublin is the only Irish university in the top 100.

The fall in international ranking is a direct consequence of the cut in funding combined with the increase in student numbers at Irish universities, Mr Jennings said.

“It couldn’t be otherwise. This didn’t come out of the blue. The ranking of Irish universities has been dropping year by year for the last number of years.

“We need political courage and we need it now.”

He added: “We are up against the lace curtain poverty façade. We are maintaining the fiction that everything is right in the university sector. Things are very far from being right. We need to have courage in government.

“I’m not unmindful of the precarious nature of the current political regime. But I honestly think that if Richard Bruton was to come out and make decisive moves to say ‘this has to finish under my watch, it will finish, we are now going to address this funding crisis”.

“I honestly think there isn’t a TD in the Dáil who could defend the status quo.”

Mr Jennings said his organisation was not a fan of university rankings, saying

they contained a lot of deficiencies.

However, he said the rankings served to highlight a trend of underfunding in the Irish university sector and he described the current rankings as a “wake up call”. One of the areas where this was most clearly visible was in staffing.

“The top reason is the rise in the ratio of students to staff. We now have 23 students for every one academic staff member, in 2007 we had 19. Even in 1966 the Higher Education Report recommended that that ratio was too high.”

Mr Jennings said it was unsustainable to cut funding for universities by approximately 30 per cent with a simultaneous 20 per cent increase in students.

“Something has to give.”

Mr Jennings said he was concerned the situation would continue to drift.

Dr Jim Browne, president of NUI Galway, said his college was delighted to have moved up the rankings, the only Irish university to do so.

“In 2008 NUIG was ranked 368 - last year 271, now at 249. We have gone after performance.”

He said the university was focused on research activity and said academics were working with high-tech companies in the Galway area.

Mr Browne said the rankings were “far from perfect” but they did provide indicators such as a teaching assessment and the pupil to teacher ratio.

“We get our Phd students and post docs to work with our academics to deliver good quality teaching . . . We are committed to teaching and we see research and teaching as completely and totally inextricably linked.”