So, what’s the deal? Overall, not much changed. Trinity still in top 100, UCD and UCC still in the top 200, NUIG still in the 300s, DCU still in the 400s. Some ups and downs: NUIG were up 12 points, UCC down 9, UCD up 3, Trinity down 2. All 7 universities, and DIT, are in the top 700, which is the top 5% globally. The detailed figures haven’t been released yet, but QS’s press release implies that research quality is trending upwards, whereas employer views are trending downwards, and the net result is mixed.
And the headlines? “College rank fall a blemish on educational aspirations” (Examiner). “Irish universities still struggling in world rankings” (Times). “Funds cut blamed as reputation of colleges on the slide” (Independent). Blemish? Struggling? On the slide? Even those of us without doctorates in statistical analysis will realise that Trinity’s fall, and UCD’s rise, are insignificant in the scale of things. UCC’s fall is big enough to worry about, though can be set against NUIG’s rise (and I don’t recall the press noticing UCC’s rise last year). And if it is thought worrying that Ireland has “only” one university in the top 100, ask how many a nation with 0.06% of the world’s population is likely to have. Most nations don’t have any. Only 20 nations feature in the top 100 list, and Ireland is one of the 5 which have “only” 1.
So where’s the fire? The headlines tell us little about the universities but quite a good deal about headline writers. “Nothing new to worry about, but the old worries are pretty bad” wouldn’t make good copy. And acknowledging that the problems of Irish universities are deep-seated and long-term might make their readers ask why the newspapers don’t cover them better. Nice of the Indo to note that funding cuts might have had an effect on quality – let’s see if they remember that for the rest of the year. The Examiner allows Paddy Prendergast to get in a few blows against the Employment Control Framework, but doesn’t join up the dots: if the Government insists on a major role in university management decisions, such as how many people universities can employ, then it also deserves part of the blame when things go wrong. The Times maintains that “the disappointing results are certain to reopen the debate about higher education funding” – though once they have got over their “disappointment” they will of course realise that the debate has nowhere to go. The IMF will not permit Ireland to abandon the gradual move towards higher and higher fees; angry voters/parents will not allow the inevitable increase to speed up very much. At the risk of sounding like Ruairi Quinn’s prophet on earth, it seems clear that this aspect of Ireland’s educational funding (along with so many others) is not, for the present at least, under Ireland’s control.
Another week, another university ranking. (Like last year, it looks as if QS are keeping back a lot of the detail, so that it can all be served up ‘fresh’ in a few months as the QS Subject Ranking 2013.) Hold onto your hats for the Sunday Times Irish ranking (due any day now) and the THE Ranking (early next month). But try not to take it all too seriously.Tags: rankings