(why) have irish universities slipped in the rankings?

So, as Ferdinand Von Prondzinski so well states, the new academic season is one that in increasingly revolving around the beat of the various rankings. And, a new batch is now out, this time from QS. Its a well regarded ranking system, and in so far as any rankings systems go, its useful as a snapshot at least.  The snapshot, as reflected in the newspapers anyhow, is one of decline (see the Irish Independent, and the Irish Times, with the Cork Examiner delivering a slightly different message) . The “raw” rankings are much as one might expect :

“TCD drops down 13 places to 65; UCD is down 20 places from 114 to 134. NUI Galway suffers the most dramatic fall, down 66 places to 298. UCC bucked the trend, up marginally from 184 to 181.” (irish times)

So why have the rankings changed so much? Lets look at them in more detail. The universities are ranked on a number of criteria, some collected by survey, some from objective metrics. Shown below are these detailed metrics. Note that a blank indicates that the university was not ranked in the top 300 on that metric in that year ( or if they were i didnt see them …) Academic reputation is measured by a survey (in which I participated) , and accounts for 40% of the weighting. Employer reputation accounts for 20%, again via  survey ; Citations per faulty member are collected from Scopus, and it accounts for 20% as does faculty-student ratio, with the residual being split between international students and international faculty.

2009 2010 2011
TCD Academic Rep 59 63 81
Employer Rep 39 63 51
Citations 244 214 220
Staff/Student 116 145 193
International Faculty 29 29 29
International Students 93 83 94
 UCD Academic
Rep
114 120 159
Employer Rep 48 69 51
Citations
Staff/Student 138 167 232
International Faculty 54 44 54
International Students 65 61 57
 UCC Academic
Rep
219 217
Employer Rep 99 112 100
Citations
Staff/Student 232 183 XXX
International Faculty 60 80 60
International Students 204 200 228
NUIG Academic
Rep
Employer Rep 144 159 228
Citations
Staff/Student 182 158 219
International Faculty 55 50 55
International Students 145 141 178
DCU Academic
Rep
Employer Rep 141 154 100
Citations
Staff/Student 208
International Faculty 74 88
International Students 131 152 171
UL Academic
Rep
Employer Rep 176 162
Citations
Staff/Student
International Faculty 99 117
International Students 300
DIT DIT DIT
DIT Academic
Rep
Employer Rep 202 222
Citations
Staff/Student 53 152 161
International Faculty 281 281
International Students 186
NUIM Academic
Rep
Employer Rep 198
Citations
Staff/Student
International Faculty 111 133 111
International Students 220

From these we can see the causes of the generalised slipping down the rankings.  Its important to note however that these are ordinal data. They are therefore not amenable to simplistic statements (indeed, nor are most data) about “X has done worse” without careful analysis. In particular,  without knowing the distribution of the data, we cannot state that going from 152 to 161 in the world is actually significant. What we can do is look at trend.

First, its nuanced. There is actually good news here, if one interprets the figures. In general irish universities are internationally staffed and have a decent reputation amongst employers.

Second, there is a spottiness in the rankings. As might be expected the leading universities, TCD, UCC and UCD, get ranked in pretty much every area. However, looking at the top 300 rankings we see that outside these we only see occasional appearances.

Third, to me this, plus the data from subject specific rankings , suggests that there is a strong case for DIT to be a university. Its performing at least as well as the “real” universities and should, IMHO, be rewarded.

Fourth, while international faculty rankings are strong, and perhaps inflate the overall rankings, one has to wonder how  this will pan out. How easily can irish universities attract and retain staff in a tanking economy and to a sector which is apparently run by oxymoronics?

Fourth, there is some commentary that the declines are down to staff student ratios. While there clearly has been a fall in these rankings, a fall sufficiently large that it is for certain a significant fall, there are also falls in the overall academic reputation.

Fifth, the raw material of academics is knowledge – the discovery and dissemination of same. One avenue of dissemination is via students, but another is via publications. In that regard the poor showing on citations is of concern. Citations act as a (poor enough) proxy of the coproduction of knowledge and its dissemination. Increasing these might be a good way to ensure a better and more rounded university sector.

Sixth, there is much laudatory comment on UCC being “irelands first five star university”. UCC is a great university. But , these stars are something to be wary of. Unlike the other metrics these stars are opt-in. In other words, they are requested from the university side.

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