Universities and world rankings


Sir, – I read the report by Carl O’Brien on the 2020 QS World University Rankings with interest. I note particularly that institutes of technology are performing very well (“Irish universities stay outside top 100 in world rankings”, News, June 19th).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is ranked number one in the world for the eighth successive year. California Institute of Technology (CIT) is ranked number five. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology is ranked number six and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne is ranked number 18. The highest placed Irish institute is Trinity College Dublin, ranked 108th.

These various institutes of technology around the world bear their titles with pride. On the other hand, our Irish institutes of technology are rushing to be re-titled as universities. One wonders what our Irish ITs know that is hidden from bodies like MIT and CIT? – Yours, etc,


(Emeritus Professor

of Biochemistry, UCC),


Co Cork.

Sir, – Your recent coverage of the university rankings failed to note that “research” in this context means almost exclusively articles in for-profit scholarly journals in the sciences and engineering with a dollop of social sciences thrown in for good measure.

The humanities hardly contribute to the quantitative measures used in these calculations because they write books and their best articles largely appear in not-for-profit journals.

The best way to rise in the rankings is to eliminate them.

Six of the QS ranking’s top 20 universities are polytechnics. Beholden to the rankings, Irish university presidents, none of whom currently have a background in the humanities, are systematically undercutting the subjects in which our university’s international reputations are in fact based and where the greatest excellence has historically resided, while our political leadership joins them in promoting studying Stem (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as the only way to grow the economy. Such an approach places no value on the centrality of critical thinking and of understanding and furthering cultural expression to a healthy society, and also ignores the considerable economic impact of the art market, for example, and of heritage.

We are in real danger of cutting off our noses to spite our faces here. – Yours, etc,



Professor of Art History,

University College Dublin,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – For all the imprecision of the QS World University Rankings, one stark comparison is clear.

While the UK has nine universities in the top 50, the highest entrant from the other 27 EU countries (population 456 million) is 50th.

After Brexit, one hopes the European elite will continue to be educated in Britain – or Australia, which has four universities in the top 50. – Yours, etc,