The best university in all the land

The new QS rankings are out: TCD tops the Irish poll at 65, followed by UCD at 134, UCC at 181, and NUIG at 298. Ireland’s other universities are not ranked in the top 300.

The Examiner (and RTE radio) made much of the fact that UCC got 5 stars. QS now has two rankings. The new one requires more data from the universities. To date, only U Limerick (4 stars) and UCC have provided that information. UCC is thus best of two.

There are disciplinary rankings too. In economics, TCD and UCD are both 51-100. Other universities do not make it into the top 200.

The Independent and Times note that Ireland’s universities have been sliding down the QS rankings. If I’m not mistaken, QS ranks can be compared over time whereas THE ranks cannot. The reasons offered by the various people interviewed are, of course, just speculation. The QS data do not allow for an in-depth analysis of the reasons behind the success, and Ireland’s universities are not particularly good in keeping records.

20% of the QS ranking is citations per faculty. QS does not define this, but the practicable way is to allocate papers to the university at which the research was done (rather than where the researcher is now). Faculty numbers have fallen, so Ireland’s position should have improved on this score, partly offsetting the decline in the faculty-student ratio (another 20%). 50% of the QS ranking is based on “reputation”, and that’s a stock variable that should survive a downturn if properly measured. However, I would think that the drop in ranking is at least partly explained by the brand Ireland turning sour in general.

UPDATE: Brian Lucey offers further thoughts and data.

UPDATE2: Kevin Denny is not impressed.

15 thoughts on “The best university in all the land”

  1. I flicked through this IT article. Was it the TCD Provost that suggested his university was operating with a much smaller budget post cuts than a UK equivalent? Aren’t Irish academics amongst the highest paid in Europe? Doesn’t this suggest where part of the solution lies?

  2. @ the alco
    Good point.
    Has there been any examples of strong leadership from the Uni heads with regards to wages?
    Or with regards to anything?
    Except yer man that is always in the papers!

  3. Richard, these rankings are important indicators, and you do good work to highlight them, but they are ordinal rankings only.

    You are making an explicit jump from that positive, ordinal measure to a normative one of ‘best’ or ‘better’.

    In so far as one can distinguish quality from these rankings that may be fine, but it’s by no means clear that position 211 is ‘better’ in any real sense than position 210 or position 2 from position 1. Thus it is correct to say that UL, for example, is the lowest ranked university. It is not fine, and incorrect, to say that UL is the ‘worst’. Only your value judgement supplies the mapping from one to the other.

    Moreover, (obviously non-parametric) significance tests on movements between these ordinal rankings are not exactly copper fastened, as you know. So movements up and down the rankings may not actually be insignificant, though over time the trend may be your friend (and an indicator of ‘improvement’ in the ranks over time may actually mean an improvement in ‘quality’). Or an improvement in the ability to supply data to the rankings. Or buying in a superstar citation magnet. Or whatever.

  4. Richard
    I think its 40% on academic reputation and 20% on employer reputation according to the QS website.
    Alchemist
    Double edged sword? cutting wages of people in a globally mobile business is not usually a good idea. And, yes, some irish academics are and have globally moved.
    Stephen
    going from ordinal data to cardinal value judgements is always a leap.

  5. @ The Alchemist

    Salaries account for three-quarters of total current expenditure on higher education in Ireland – compared with an international average of two-thirds.

    @ Philip II

    cutting wages of people in a globally mobile business is not usually a good idea

    This is a mantra that is usually trotted out without much thought and in some sectors it rationalises bonanzas for the deadwood and the small number who may have some grounds to claim to be internationally competitive.

    In RTÉ, a near monopoly, people scrounged huge pay deals as they could be poached internationally?

    Just one metric from the US, a country where the consumer is flat on his/her back as the the folks on top of the pyramid not only managed to have taxes reduced to 60-year lows but inflation-adjusted CEO pay rose from 1970 by 430% while average pay gained 26%.

    A bankrupt country like Ireland could pay medical consultants double what counterparts earn in Norway – – with its $500bn sovereign wealth fund.

    We need to attract the best and Ha-Joon Chang of Cambridge University says the US growth rate in per capita terms since 1980 has been around 1.8%, which is the same rate as the one seen between 1950 and 1980.
    So, figuratively speaking, the Americans have been paying their “wealth creators” two to three times more than before to get the same outcome.

    Remember, we are bankrupt not because of some curse from a god.

  6. @Phillip II

    Double-edged sword?

    Don’t follow that argument. Where is the evidence that the economy is thriving by keeping salaries high? What are salaries like in the other EU universities ahead of the bulk of our own? Lower or higher?

  7. @Michael
    Good points.

    The average academic in Ireland is very well paid compared to her international peers, but the top academics can get a better deal elsewhere.

  8. I do hope everyone realises that this sudden drop is due to the fact that these Universities are in Ireland, the reputation of the country now sending them down just as it sent them up during the boom.

    The university rank systems are far more subjective things than their authors would like to admit.

  9. @ Ernie Ball

    Page 43 of the Jan 2011 report of the strategy group on HE.

    There isn’t a footnote reference. This is the quote:

    Modest levels of investment in higher education, combined with pay levels that are high by international standards, albeit with recent reductions, have resulted in inadequate investment in learning resources and system development infrastructure.

    Salaries account for three-quarters of total current expenditure on higher education in Ireland – compared with an international average of two-thirds. This means that Irish higher education operates with lower (nonpay) recurrent expenditure than is typical in other countries.

  10. Can we perhaps leave the issue of academic salaries (where entrenched positions meet entrenched positions) and ask a few questions
    a) do these matter?
    b) if so to whom
    c) if to someone then how should we take them – as metrics to be aimed for (no? surely not?) or as indications of where we can improve.

    OMF
    Not sure its about ireland per se. Look at the commentary elsewhere on blogs about the decomposition of these measures. Also, some, quite a bit in fact is objective. And a decent survey is while subjective as objective as surveys can be.

  11. So we can argue about the construction of the different rankings. And there will always be malcontents (like me) who say they are nonsense. To which the usual response is “yeah guv, but they matter to the kids on the street” or, more precisely, to the Chinese students we are trying to attract because we need the dosh.
    So I am curious to know, as a matter of fact, who cares about these rankings? Does Oxford or Harvard or even Cambridge?
    My conjecture is that the ones at the top don’t. Maybe the ones at the bottom don’t either since if you are that far down you don’t want to advertise it and you are not in the game anyway.

  12. @ kevin denny

    I’m inclined to agree with you.

    It so happens I was taking a playwrighting group from the University of Iowa this summer in Dublin – and a very nice lively bunch there were.

    The University of Iowa ranks at 188 on this poll – but it so happens it has developed a broad, deep and highly successfuly Creative Writing Programme, at which it can claim to be the most productive in the US. I attach a wikipedia page which lists their Pulitzer Prize winners.

    Crudely, I can’t see how anyone would be stirred at the thought of going to the 188th best Uni, but if I wanted to explore writing and develop a career in same, I’d head to Iowa.

    My feeling is that third-level institutions should concentrate on ethos and excellence in areas they feel passionate about, over attempting to claw up ranking scales.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_Writers'_Workshop

    http://fyi.uiowa.edu/08/24/creative-writing-no-1/

  13. Irish Universities would not be high ranking in the Transparency stakes. Only Trinity and NUIG have their 2010 Accounts posted on their website. Two still only have 2008 accounts on their websites and the rest have 2009 accounts posted. Of course Muggins the Taxpayer is bailing out their Defined Benefit Schemes which are in deficit for very substantial sums because of the average high salaries. Muggins apparently is not allowed to have up to date info on what they are up to. Did someone mention Bailouts here ????

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