Higher education and research was again in the news today.
The latest batch of bad news on the labour market in Waterford seems to have triggered a decision to establish Waterford University. I am not convinced that universities are necessarily good for regional development. Some universities sure have a positive impact, but I don’t think this holds for any university. With the newly build highways, Waterford is closer to Cork and Dublin, taking away some of the would-be benefits of a local centre of learning and research.
Furthermore, Ireland has plenty of universities already. The largest university has 18,000 students (UCD, 2009) — which puts it below average in the Netherlands, 60th in the UK, 38th in Germany, 35th and just above average in France. Ireland has the 8th highest number of universities per capita in the world already. (A new university would not change the latter rank, just push us closer to Norway.) This matters for two reasons. There is a fixed cost in running a university. International rankings are not normalized for size; small universities cannot do well.
The 2010 annual report of Science Foundation Ireland also made the news today. The press release emphasizes collaboration, which has increased with both researchers abroad and companies in Ireland. This is not a measure of success. It may just reflect the changing nature of SFI funding and its increase in size. The annual report itself has more indicators, but is annoyingly glossy for an academic organization. We learn that SFI-funded researchers have published 22% more papers in 2010 than in 2009, but we are not told the number of researchers. We learn that Ireland has gone up 16 places in the citations-per-paper ranking (36th in 2003, 20th in 2010), but for all we know that may be because of the social sciences and humanities (who are not supported by SFI).
The SFI 2010 Census has more numbers. Two things stand out: Few patents, few spin-outs. Emigration numbers are high: 47% for all, 66% for non-Irish (post-doc and below). SFI’s mission is to bolster innovation in Irish manufacturing.