This is a new ranking system, by which universities request a fuller evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses, and are assessed on a number of criteria.
Separate scores (on a scale 1-5) are awarded for Research, Employability, Teaching, Infrastructure, Internationalization, Innovation and Engagement.
In September 2011, UCC received a 5-star ranking under this system, and UL a 4-star ranking. NUIG joined them in March 2012, with a 5-star ranking. As of 2014, all these rankings are now 5-star. The current rankings are here.
“QS Stars is a rating system which allows students to get a wider picture of an institution’s qualities, looking at everything from the employability of graduates, to sports facilities and community engagement. It is designed to reflect the nuanced mission of universities, and the needs of students who may be interested in things other than those to which traditional rankings are necessarily limited. The opt-in accreditation looks at 51 different areas …” (more)
This system is controversial, inasmuch as the evaluation is at the request (and is paid for by) the individual institutions. See “QS defends paid-for gold star addition to rankings” (University World News, 25 July 2012).