Depressing State of Irish Economics Departments

Tilburg has produced a ranking of economics departments for the whole world.  See .  It is based on journal publications since 2004.  The nice aspect of this website is that you can change the ranking yourself by including the journals that you like and excluding the ones that you despise.  No matter how the cookie is cut, our economics departments are abysmal.

33 replies on “Depressing State of Irish Economics Departments”

Mick, I am the last person to want to defend the research standing of Irish universities, as you know. But let me make two points.

1. These rankings are not per capita. That really matters for very small departments, and our departments are very small by international standards. No matter how hard individuals may try, we will never do well in rankings that are not size-adjusted, since we are clearly not going to triple or quadruple the size of our departments any time soon, or indeed ever. (To put the same point another way, Ireland cannot afford ‘world class’ universities.)

2. At least economics produces such rankings. It would be nice to see similar rankings for other disciplines.

…and let me make a third point. If you look at the TCD staff list you will see a lot of really promising recent young hires. We will be telling them to try to publish in the best possible journals, and so while they are and will be publishing, this will happen with a lag. It won’t have an effect on the rankings for a while.

As an economics graduate from one of these “abysmal” universities, I’d disagree. Econ departments in Ireland are small. This ranking doesn’t take account of size.

I suppose Ireland itself is a failure because our GDP isn’t a patch on the USA.

Michael, as usual you are trying to wind us all up.

Mind you, I couldn’t help noticing that Queens has a tricolour beside it. Priceless!

As argued by Kevin and Marcus, and indeed in Ruane and Tol (2007), there are (too) many small econ departments in Ireland. As long as that is the case, we will never do well in a ranking like this.

Vrije is at 78, below Amsterdam, Rotterdam and even Maastricht. The reason is the list of journals. One can argue that these are the “core journals” of “economics proper”. However, Vrije made a deliberate choice that, being small, it could only excel by specialisation. If all ISI journals are included, Vrije is close at Tilburg’s heels.

Where, as a prior, would you
a) have expected and
b) have wanted
irish economics depts to rank?

If I am reading the methodology correctly its a count of papers?


That’s not my point. Rankings are scores on an objective function. The choice of the objective function is important when interpreting the ranking.

The Tilburg ranking is about quantity x core-quality.

Vrije has fringe-quality. UCD and TCD have core-quality, but not enough quantity.

The problems affecting them are probably the same as other disciplines in Ireland: it takes considerable time, money and a certain critical mass of smart people to publish in the top journals.

World class universities are rich and independent; in Irish ones significant amount of academics’ time is spent on clerical or administrative work. Many are without secetaries or research assistants. These are often sneered at as a bourgeois request.

By this research measure, Ireland might be better off focusing research in a few larger departments, or with more colloboration across institutes, or choosing niche topics .

All universities, even all 3rd level colleges of any kind, need to retain some teaching capacity (just listen to the level of public comprehension of economic concepts).

@Richard (and Peter S)
The problem is that we have forgotten what it is we want from the third level. What is often conflated is research excellence and teaching excellence. For sure we cannot hope to have 20+ third and fourth level universities and universities manque trying to compete across the board with the rest of the world in all areas of research. But we can and should expect that all do a decent job of teaching, which is to say dissimenating that research. Smaller numbers of highher quality research driven (fourth level) entities doesnt conflict with larger numbers of teaching orientated third level entities. In all cases everyone should do some teaching and everyone some research, but the weightings at individual, unit and institutional level can and should vary.

But why in one ‘area’? Why the necessity to travel every day? Or have separate elements at all? Would it not be more efficient to have a single national university with every third level institution funded by the state part of it? And rather than make vast numbers of students travel, have smaller numbers of teachers move about as required? Or indeed, just be projected into virtual lecture halls around the country?

@Richard, regarding Sutherland: he says

Our universities must have the flexibility to differentially reward their best performers, to incentivise those who are willing to take on academic leadership positions…

I wonder what he regards as academic leadership positions? Does he mean people who display academic leadership, i.e. who are leading academics? Or does he mean people who want to become university administrators? If the latter, then I think they are already more than well enough incentivised within the Irish system. If the former, then I agree in principle, but the budgetary situation makes this impossible (and one has to ask the question as to who would decide who is leading and not leading…this would be a real issue in the Irish context IMO)

I think he means world-class research and teaching rather than administration.

Evaluation would have to be done by outsiders (non-residents, that is) and objective criteria.

Part of the research funding could, for instance, be proportional to your share in the total number of citations.

I have to say that I read the academic leadership statement as “stop beating up on deans, vice principals for this and that, executive managers etc”. But who knows…..

I think it starts with the basics.

To attract students to their courses Irish universities take out a lot of the maths from economics. This then sets them at a serious disadvantage when it comes to doing a PhD.

Of course its hard to judge different PhD programmes with the information available on courses, but are Irish PhD programmes seriously as tough as those of LSE, EUI, or Pompeu Fabra? Of course Irish universities can buy in talent, but this is costly.

Perhaps Irish departments are small, but the Walloons have UCL in the rankings. There are economies of scale that the Dublin universities are only beginning to gain through greater cooperation.

Irish economic departments should benchmark themselves against the best in the UK.

Teaching and research (in any third-level) discipline are two completely different areas: each requires different set of knowledge and technical expertise – both of which are subject specific. In fact teaching is probably more difficult as you need to acquire a much broader understanding of your subject and its applications than would be required if you were researching a specific area of interest. In addition, the skills and expertise needed to teach undergrads are different from those required to teach postgrads or direct research students.

Third-level academic rankings have really no merit if they cannot separate teaching from research and rank then separately. Given the great variety and complexity of third-level institutions they really need separate ranking procedures anyway.

B Peter

Are you of the view that “research-led teaching” is a contradiction in terms (as your post suggests)? If so, you have a lot of your colleagues against you. What would you say to convince them that they are wrong?

There are quite some quirks in the Tilburg ranking and uni definitions. Already they only take English language journals, making meaningful European comparisons hard.

@ Ciarán O’Hagan

Seriously, what non-English language journals are any good? The top national journals in Italy, Spain and Scandinavia are in English. Even in France the top economists publish in English, and the French are probably the most particular about their language.

Also relatively basic English is required to write in economics. This contrasts with subjects like law or history.

Isn’t economics a classic example of a double bind?

If an academic makes a discovery that reveals that say, fractional reserve banking is a scam licensed and regulated by the state, then who would want to know? It would be unpublishable. There are only so many fundamental truths about human behaviour.

Far better to focus on teaching malleable but otherwise highly intelligent, students to spout well researched statistically valid, spiel that will enable non-academics to make money from people who look up to economic thought …… When they realize that there is no future in telling the truth, as when a Taioseach asks them to suicide, and that their career will suffer what do they do?

No wonder that the “best” ie most published, are part of the Fed Reserve scam? Raping countries for money can mean that those who act as authorities for regimes of austerity allowing asset prices to collapse and carpet baggers to move in? Haiti is considered to have more oil than Venezuala. Good idea to keep the government weak and remove any poularists who could develop it before TPTB in the oil world decide that it should be taken out of the ground.

How many whistle blowers in the economics game?

At a recent debate in TCD I caused a minor cardiac episode when I asked why Ireland needs a world-class university.

PS’s is an example of the type of argument by assertion that has Irish policy debates at the poor level they are. This goes something like “we must have a world-class university so we must rationalise and consolidate to get critical scale”. That we have too many universities may be correct but this is not because we require a world-class university. Or at least I’d liek to hear someone make the clear economic argument for such an institution.

What we require are universites that are ‘fit for purpose’ (there’s that phrase again). What type of graduates does Irish business and society require and how do we achieve this? Do we need world-class status to get it?

We don’t help ourselves by teaching Keynesian nonsense. Economics has been caught up in this post modernist Hegalian bulls**t since forever. We need to forget about econometrics and generally trying to find some use for calculus in what is a pretty straightforward study of human behavior. There are statements that are real world true, apodistic, that form the basis for understanding how people behave. Our trouble is we teach Socialism.

Marx, Frank Knight, Milton Freedman, Paul Krugman or any of the modern mischief makers infect our culture and are lauded by Economics departments all over the world. Fortunately the resurgence in the last decade or so in the fortunes of the Austrians holds out some hope (more so in the US than Europe) of a major intellectual shift. Soon I hope, Krugman, Skidelsky et al will be lose their undeserved preeminence in the face of an Austrian resurgence.

To get a handle on the truth one need go no further than von Misses, Hayak, Rothbard, Rand. Hoppe et al. Austrian Economic Theory and the Austrian business cycle are the correct description of what has just happened to Capitalism and what is likely to transpire in the coming years.

At the moment as far as I am aware we do not have an Austrian Professor in Ireland. It will take a few years before we catch up no doubt. I live in hope.

@Pat Donnelly

Your right. Nor will there be any jobs going in Bloxhams or Davy’s for any of the guys I would like to see coming through. But neither would there be jobs in the ESRI for them. Perhaps a bigger worry? Anyway, we need less economists and more citizens that understand Economics.

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