New university rankings

The latest QS university rankings are out. The rules have changed, so comparisons to last year are nonsense.

Ireland has three universities in the Top 200: TCD (52), UCD (114) and UCC (184). The others require a bit of searching: UCG (232), DCU (330), DIT (395), Maynooth (401-450), UL (451-500).

It this good or bad? I counted the number of universities in the top 200. Ireland (4.4 mln people) does better than Austria (8.3 mln), Finland (5.4 mln), Greece (11.3 mln), Portugal (11.3 mln),  Norway (4.9 mln), Singapore (5.0 mln) and Spain (46.0 mln); about as good as Denmark (5.5 mln) and New Zealand (4.4 mln); but worse than Belgium (10.8 mln), Hong Kong (7.0 mln) and Sweden (9.3 mln).

21 replies on “New university rankings”

I counted the number of universities in the top 200. Ireland (4.4 mln people) does better than Austria (8.3 mln), Finland (5.4 mln), Greece (11.3 mln), Portugal (11.3 mln), Norway (4.9 mln), Singapore (5.0 mln) and Spain (46.0 mln); about as good as Denmark (5.5 mln) and New Zealand (4.4 mln); but worse than Belgium (10.8 mln), Hong Kong (7.0 mln) and Sweden (9.3 mln).

…and with the exception of Greece, the above countries seem to be doing better than Ireland. I like Michael Hennigan’s characterization of current policies towards third level as ‘faith based’. Time for some agnosticism, perhaps?

I don’t know about the new methodology, but I heard complaints that the old rankings had a pro-English language bias. In that context Ireland performs badly.

Anyway, there is probably a trade off between having lots of medium 3rd level institutions versus one or two elite universities and lots of bad ones.

@Richard Tol – housekeeping note: Does this post have a title??

This seems like a growth industry akin to the competitiveness ranking industry and seems to suffer from the same problem i.e. difficulty in properly measuring inputs and outputs.
How represeantative are their surveys? I would have thought graduate employability/pay would be important yet that is not measured at all.

@Richard Tol

I’m pretty sure Alchemist meant that they’re doing better economically or better overall. Though indeed that might not be true of all the other economies either, in particular Spain and Portugal.

There is a juicy market out there. Every government department, funding agency, and university wants their bespoke ranking and evaluation. QS is trying to establish itself as a brand.

I wondering looking at Germany with their top slot being 51 if there is a case to be made that an exporting economy like Germany does its research etc in industry and not in academia.

If so:
Is it valid to state that industry conducted r&d outranks academic r&d???


Germany does not do most of its research in industry but a lot of it is not carried out in the universities either. The likes of EMBL and the various Max Planck institutes are independent of universities and industry.

I believe that this causes much hand-wringing in Germany when these rankings are published. Perhaps R. Tol has more first hand experience.

The real surprise is with the French Unis. These are seen by their peers as being top notch, particularily in the mathematical sciences, but they consistently fail to make an impact in these ratings.

Further to Bazza’s remark, ranking universities in terms of particular fields (engineering, science, economics) is arguably a more useful anaylysis.

How does LSE fare in Economics? MIT in engineering? the french universities in Maths?

Uni will be a luxury for some time to come if there is a deep depression.

Best ploy is to declare economics as unnecesary and whole departments to take early retirement!

Those who get out first may get the best deal?

I find these exercises tiresome. (Although being a graduate of two of Ireland’s lower ranked universities perhaps I would say that.)

Specifically I find the notion of ranking (as opposed to tiers) disruptive. Who are supposed to take the results and act on them? Ministers and bureaucrats? University Presidents? Prospective students? Could we see universities discarding parts of their culture that make them unique in order to see themselves ranked higher by one or two places to do their neighbours in the eye?

It all comes across to me as a mongrel cross of baseball/cricket/soccer stattos and a bunch of refugees from the rating agencies whose meal tickets are now either in bankruptcy court or subsidiaries of the remaining megabanks.

The rank determines the fee that can be charged to foreign students. It partly determines the quality of applicants for faculty positions. It affects the options for guest speakers. It drives philantropic grants. It influences the result of competitive grants.

Very important.

@Richard – right, but is “planning to the test”, especially a test run by different agencies using different methodologies (changing year on year) the way to run higher education institutions? Where is the oversight on these assessments, which could have calamitous effects if changed arbitrarily?

It is pretty awful to see UCD and UCC rank lower than some of the UK provincial Universities. As the Irish Universities pay their staff way more than UK Universities one wonders why the teaching/research is of a lower quality here.

last comment was slightly ambiguous. What I was getting at is that some high ranking colleges barely scrap the top 100 in certain categories. ICL (no 7) is evidently quite strong in the sciences. but only 144th in Arts and humanities.

Interestingly TCD is in the top 100 in all five catgories.

Yes a very good point. Correlation between academic salaries and university ranking would be an interesting task. The Guardian made a splash a few months back pointing out that Oxford pays only 250 (round figure) of its 9000 staff over £100k per annum. I don’t know what the figures are for Irish universities but at a guess I suspect 30%-40% of the academics earn more than €100K.

You state the rankings are very important. But isn’t easier to plead the case that the rankings simply confirm that the richer get richer and the lucky get luckier? I grant you that bureaucrats and politicians may value them simply because the rankings spare them the burden of having to think through the implications of policy. But outside of that, should we really place that much weight on the academic equivalent of ‘best dressed person’ awards?

I have inside knowledge and very specific interests. I therefore ignore these rankings. Others do not, however, including potential customers and sponsors.

For instance, in the international market for students, this and similar rankings imply that Irish universities should compete on price.

Question: Is the “Knowledge Economy” really “The University Economy” and the only reality is we can “create” jobs for Phd students, taught masters students, academic supervisors, post docs, PIs, lecturers,professors, governance positions etc. Is this it or will something trickle down to the rest of us in terms of jobs and manufacturing and exports ?

Question: Is it possible to simply manipulate your status vis-a-vis the criteria they’re looking for- for example if you passed more students through, awarded more Phds etc, made more friends in other institutions who would verify your academic decisions via external examiners who are close colleagues

Question: Do we really do anything better in Ireland such as manufacturing …do our new brighter more qualified students do a better job than their colleagues qualifying in the 1980s- for example, would you think a junior doctor qualifying in 2010 who entered medicine despite avoiding honours maths but with marvellous A1s in all sorts of non-science subjects would be as well educated and as well able to solve healthcare problems as someone from the 1980s who had to do honours maths and physics and science.

I think this is simply another cosmetic exercise and really everything boils down to “Marketing” the only thing we seem able to do nowadays having given up on doing our jobs properly, accepting that failure is a part of learning to get it right and talking things up compensates for facing reality and building on reality rather than foll(ality) (if such a word exists:))


Good questions. And no we don’t do manufacturing. The government decided indigenous manufacturing was for the ignorant and anyway multinationals gave better lunches where people spoke with accents heard mainly on TV and everyone flew first class. Ireland has gone all cargo cult on industrial development. Building Unreality is the phrase you are searching for perhaps?

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