So the 2016 QS subject rankings are out. There has been a mild controversy about TCD communications with people who might respond to the survey on which much of the ranking is rated, but nonetheless the story overall is worth examining.
QS rankings are a mixture of reputation (derived from surveys of academics and employers – do you rate these places and would you hire from these places, in effect) and excellence (measured in the main by scientific output). They provide ranking for each subject area not for each department. We now have data since 2011. Subjects from 1-50 are given individual ranks by QS thereafter it is in undifferentiated bands of 50, say 151-200. To get a sense of how the areas rate I assigned each university subject to its rank (if in the top 50) or to the midpoint of the band.
First, as has been the case for some time Irish universities AHSS areas are ranked higher in quality than the STEM. I have written before about our national obsession with STEM courses when the evidence is strong and consistent that our third level quality lies disproportionally in the AHSS areas. I am blue in the face from noting that given the vast sums provided to STEM it is quite astonishing how well AHSS performs. Of the 29 areas in which Irish universities were ranked in the top 100 20 are in AHSS
Second, if we examine top 100 placements, we find again that the consistent story is of AHSS dominance. The table below shows the number of subject areas by year ranked in the top 100. While we cant fetishise any number , a ranking in the top 100 is an indication of worldwide agreement on quality being high.
Third, 54 subject areas exist in which Irish universities were ranked in 2011 and in 2016. Examining these gives us a sense of how the percieved quality of Irish higher education has changed over time. Only 4 – Psychology and Electrical and Electronic Engineering in UCD, Modern Languages and Politics in TCD – show improvements. The great majority show declines. On a national level AHSS fields show a smaller decline than STEM. This is starkest in TCD where AHSS have fallen by 18 while STEM by 73.
Fourth, some breakthroughs seem to have been made in the areas of computer science. We now have all 8 universities with computer science ranked in the top 500 – when you consider that there are tens of thousands of universities worldwide we might want to pause for some quite celebration here.
Fifth, on average the top 5 ranked subject areas in AHSS are English Language and Literature , Politics and International Studies, History and Modern Languages in TCD and Development Studies in UCD. The top ranked STEM are Veterinary and Nursing in UCD, Nursing in UCC, Nursing in TCD and Biological Sciences in TCD.
Sixth, there is clear evidence of a decline from the top; TCD and UCD have both fallen hard. Looking below at the average rank of all areas this is clear. Nor is there much evidence of pickup from the lowerranked.
Full data here (sortable)