NUIG president says ranking rise down to calibre of staff

Dr Jim Browne says he is confident the university is addressing the gender issue

First-year students gather in the quad at NUI Galway for a group photograph, in a new tradition for the college. Photograph: Patrick Heneghan, NUIG

First-year students gather in the quad at NUI Galway for a group photograph, in a new tradition for the college. Photograph: Patrick Heneghan, NUIG

 

Universities are “not Premier League football clubs, who invest in star players to deliver a ‘quick bounce’ ”.

When NUI Galway president Dr Jim Browne made this observation in an analysis of university ranking systems five years ago, he noted that one particular set of metrics would lead to “dysfunctional behaviour” if followed to its logical conclusion.

He was referring to the Times Higher Education Supplement ranking which, he said, placed far more emphasis on research than on teaching.

He noted there were no rewards for supporting students from more disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, or for introducing special programmes for second chance or mature students.

Dr Browne stands by his reservations, even as the university has bucked the national trend in the QS World University Rankings published this week. NUIG has risen for the fourth year in a row and is now in 249th place compared with 271st place last year.

Trinity College Dublin is still within the top 100, but fell 20 places to 98th, while University College Dublin fell 22 places to 176.

Teaching staff

The Irish Times

NUIG and Trinity secured the highest amount of funding among Irish universities from the first nine months of the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme for science, he says.

Dr Browne said four NUIG professors were ranked among the “world’s influential scientific minds” for 2015 compiled by Thompson Reuters, and cited the large investment in infrastructure on campus, supported by Galway University Foundation.

He acknowledged a challenging couple of years since the Equality Tribunal ruling in favour of botanist Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who was passed over for promotion.

He said he is confident the university is addressing the gender issue, by implementing the findings of a taskforce and appointing the first vice-president for equality and diversity, Prof Anne Scott.

A group of female lecturers is still engaged in legal action, while staff on contracts of indefinite duration, and other short-term arrangements, struggle financially to pursue careers in academia.

“It is not in our interest to have contract staff, and it is far better for us to have permanent posts,” Dr Browne said. “I don’t think it is as big an issue as it has been portrayed.

“We have less staff to teach more students – our numbers are over 18,000,” he said, referring to a struggle shared by all Irish universities.

“We need a decision from Government, and from Opposition parties, on funding and I am in favour of a shared income model where the student contributes through an income contingent loan,” he said.

NUIG students’ union president Jimmy McGovern said the “relentlessly hard working” staff in the university have contributed to the college’s reputation, and it also has a “very social environment”.

“We do feel now that the staff-student ratio is the big issue that has to be addressed,” Mr McGovern said.