Government faces fees pressure as universities slide


THE GOVERNMENT is facing fresh pressure from university presidents to reintroduce college fees after Trinity College, Dublin, and UCD both slipped dramatically down a world university ranking published this morning.

In a devastating blow for the Irish higher education sector, Ireland has for the first time no representation within the top 100 in the prestigious Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Trinity is down 41 places to 117, while the slump for UCD is even worse. It is down 65 places to 159.

The decline comes as both colleges struggle to deal with a funding crisis; this has led to a higher staff to student ratios, larger classes and poorer facilities.

Last night the new provost of Trinity Paddy Prendergast said the rankings “reflect a high-performing world-class university . . . let down by reduced income, falling staffing levels and a decreasing staff to student ratio”.

UCD president Dr Hugh Brady said: “We are working harder and longer with far less but it will be difficult for us and for all of the Irish universities to compete in the years ahead unless the nettle of higher education funding is grasped.”

Aside from TCD and UCD, no other Irish university makes the top 200. University College Cork is ranked between 301 and 350. Both NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth are ranked between 350 and 400, while the DCU and DIT have fallen out of the top 400.

Amid growing unease in the university sector about the funding crisis, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has refused to rule out the return of college fees since taking office. But this has drawn severe criticism from student groups. Mr Quinn signed a pre-election pledge promising no increase in student charges earlier this year.

Next month, a report from the Higher Education Authority is due to warn that the higher education system will be unable to compete internationally – or deal with a projected 30 per cent increase in student numbers over the next decade – without a quantum leap in funding.

Yesterday, one senior university figure told The Irish Times: “Ruairí Quinn has to stop all the procrastination. He has to bite the bullet and bring back fees. There is no alternative.”

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Ranking, said: “There’s no getting away from the fact the latest rankings are very bad news for Ireland . . . But this is no surprise: the financial crisis is starting to hurt . . . Ireland is facing stark choices with the future of its world-famous universities at stake.”

Overall, Ireland is ranked a lowly 17th for its higher education system. However, it is ranked 6th when GDP or income is taken into account. Among British and Irish universities, Trinity is the 16th best while UCD is ranked 30th.

The rankings judge universities on 13 performance indicators, making these the only world rankings to examine all core missions of a modern global university – research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity.

They include the world’s largest academic reputation survey and an analysis of 50 million citations which are compared with the world average from the same field.

In a surprising finding, the California Institute of Technology is ranked as the world’s leading higher education college ahead of Harvard and Stanford which share second place.

The other institutions to make the top 10 are Oxford University (4th), Princeton University (5th), University of Cambridge (6th), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (7th), Imperial College London (8th), University of Chicago (9th) and University of California, Berkeley (10th).

American universities continue to dominate, with 75 institutions in the top 200.