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.
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.