Trinity College Dublin has tumbled down in the latest set of world university rankings, sparking calls for urgent Government funding to reverse a decade-long slide in the standing of Irish colleges.
Less than a decade ago Ireland had two universities – Trinity and University College Dublin – in the top 100 of the influential Times Higher Education world university rankings.
The latest set of figures shows Trinity has fallen more than 40 places to 164th place, while UCD remains in the top 250 .
The general downward trend of Irish universities in global rankings over the past decade has sparked alarm within higher education.
Trinity is now calling on the Government to work with universities to develop a national strategy on rankings to reverse the decline witnessed in many Irish universities over the past decade.
"The only way up is through investment that prioritises excellence," said Trinity's dean of research, Professor Linda Doyle.
“Next month’s Budget is perhaps the last opportunity to ensure that Ireland continues to have at least one university ranked in the top-200.”
The overall rankings show a mixed performance for Irish third-level instituions.
Those ranked outside the top 200 are placed in bands of 50 or more, depending on how highly ranked they are.
The second-highest-ranked college, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, remains steady, as do UCD and Queen's University Belfast. They all rank in the 201st-250th placed category.
NUI Galway climbed in this year's rankings (251-300, up from 301-350) as did Maynooth University (301-350, up from 351-400).
University College Cork remained steady (301-350), as did University of Limerick (501-600th).
Dublin City University slipped in this year's league table (601-800, down from 401-500), while Ulster University remained steady (601-800) as did Technological University Dublin – formerly DIT – (801-1,000).
The global rankings, meanwhile, show the top-ranked institution is University of Oxford, for the fourth year in a row, followed by California Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Overall, many European institutions have declined in the rankings in the face of fierce competition from Asia and the US.
The Irish Universities Association said the position of Irish universities reflects the reduction in Government funding over a decade for core student tuition, capital investment and investigator-led research.
"Universities have worked exceptionally hard to plug the gaps left by the reduction in State funding but the competition is not standing still," said the association's director general Jim Miley.
“Our competitor countries are investing even more in their talent and all the while we fall further behind. It is time for politicians of all political persuasions to stop saying what they don’t want and to commit to solutions.”
The Department of Education has pointed out that funding for the third-level sector has increased by almost €350 million, or about 25 per cent, since 2015.
In addition, it says the Government has committed to a five-year programme of increased investment amounting to €300 million, commencing next year, under a new “human capital initiative”.
However, many academics say this additional funding, in real terms, means colleges are “treading water” in response to rising student numbers and the cost of public-sector pay deals.
Prof Doyle in Trinity noted that while the college’s performance was “steady”, this was not good enough in a world where competitors are benefitting from sustained investment by their governments.
“There is no denying that continuing underinvestment in university education and research in Ireland is catching up with us,” she said.