THE University Rankings

You can’t but admire the person who dubbed Times Higher Education.

The new THE University Rankings are out. Confirms earlier rankings: Ireland is slipping. I won’t repeat the whole discussion again. Just click on the “rankings” tag below to reread previous posts and comments. Here’s a summary: The metric is imperfect, but people base their decisions on it nonetheless.

Note that they changed their method again (for the better, although using Z-scores is statistically inappropriate for a Pareto distribution), so current and past ranks are incomparable.

University Rank 2011 (Rank 2010)

TCD         117            (76)

UCD         159            (94)

UCC         301-350    (>200)

NUIG        351-400    (>200)

NUIM       351-400    (>200)

The subject rankings will be published in two weeks (the PR genius was at it again).

The new IDEAS/RePEc data are out (economics only). Ireland is slipping there too. See graph. This cannot be explained by a drop in numbers. See graph. Liam Delaney and Kevin O’Rourke have left, Colm Kearney has announced his departure, and there will be more, but IDEAS/RePEc has yet to catch up with that.

Similarly, whatever people say in the media, austerity measures and employment control frameworks are likely to impact future university rankings, but I doubt they can explain much of the current rankings, as the objective measures (publications, citations) reflect the past rather than the present.

As with the QS rankings, reputation plays a big role. There is probably a spillover from bad news about Ireland in general to Irish universities specifically.

Media coverage:

Quinn in Irish Examiner

Boland in Irish Examiner

Irish Times


Irish Independent

35 replies on “THE University Rankings”

The trend is not good. Cue now comments about overpaid professors, course duplication and the dreary bureaucratisation agenda.
Of course, maybe this is “our level” and the higher ranking was a bubble?


“Steve Jobs was a creative genius who broke down walls in business and opened doors in people’s minds. His innovative prowess in the area of technology has brought about a level of access to information for millions that few would have ever foreseen. His legacy will be not just his products and business achievements, but also the way in which he altered mindsets in the business world and in everyday life”.


I see the Irish Times are echoing the call for higher fees… whereas the examiner has a much more realistic attitude… noting

Although a new measurement in the Times Higher Education rankings published today places Ireland sixth in the world — ahead of the United States and other “academic giants” — for the number of universities in the top 200 relative to national wealth, the dropping reputation of individual colleges will be the biggest talking point.

A depression era economy cannot support a boom era education sector.

@Richard Tol

As with the QS rankings, reputation plays a big role. There is probably a spillover from bad news about Ireland in general to Irish university specifically.

JTO again:

In other words, perfectly innocent, competent and professional academics in Irish universities (some of whom post here) are seeing their reputations diminished and their rankings reduced because of the rubbish about the Irish economy that people like Morgan Kelly and Brian Lucey have been spouting on Bloomberg in recent years. Similarily, if this ‘reputation contagion’ theory is correct, all the nonsensical gibberish that ESRI has been spouting about the level of net emigration in recent years may have contributed to the lowering of these academics’ rankings, even though it had nothing to do with them. It doesn’t worry me, but it ought to worry them and it should make for some heated discussions in the staff common rooms.

The good news for them is that, as the IMF pointed out yesterday, the performance of the Irish economy has exceeded all expectations so far in 2011 (growth of 3.5% in first half of 2011 v 0.5% in UK), while the census demolished the ESRI net emigration claims, so there is a good chance that their rankings and reputations will rebound in line with the economy.

I notice that the comparison between the trend of Irish academics’ rankings and the ranking of the Irish rugby team, which featured in your thread on the same topic a few weeks ago, is missing from this one.

Phew..glad John the optimist put his finger on it….if we simply executed the culprits then we would be better no?


What about QUB, UU, UL, DCU?


Glad to see that rumours of your demise have been greatly exaggerated! Ditto for Rory Best …

JohnTheOptimist steps to solving Irelands economic crisis

1st step bury head in sand
2nd step be optimistic regardless of the facts
3rd step blame everything on Irelands best economists for there honest analysis
(Including the downgrading of ireland top universities)

As for his ESRI comparison, I think its time that people stopped using there projections and statistics to meet there own agendas. The ESRI are a joke and consistantly get it wrong. Even the IMF contradicted there growth forecasts after only a couple of months


Phew..glad John the optimist put his finger on it….if we simply executed the culprits then we would be better no?

JTO again:

It isn’t me. It is Richard Tol who is advancing the theory that ‘bad news about Ireland in general’ is affecting the reputations and rankings of Irish universities and academics. I have no idea if Richard’s theory is true or not. Although it would be very unfair to most academics, it does seem plausible. If Richard’s theory is true, then clearly world media reports along the lines of ‘Ireland experiencing biggest exodus since famine’, which were prevalent after ESRI published their net emigration forecasts last year, will have affected these academics’s reputations and rankings, since that clearly comes under the heading of ‘bad news’. So, the academics ought to be concerned about the fact that the ‘bad news’ proved hopelessly inaccurate and exaggerated, and that their reputaions and rankings have therefore (if Richard’s theory is true) been unfairly lowered.

Ah, so, it’s the bad news!…nothing to do with the things the Rankers said so. Clearly, your right, it’s as it has been, people talking down the economy. It’s a wonder you don’t drag McWilliams into your paranoid droppings to be honest.

Reputation is 33% of the total rank. Most of the other indicators are stock variables that change gradually over time. Indicators such as the number of papers published with a [Irish university] affiliation are not affected by recent movement: Kevin O’Rourke may be gone, but his papers will forever be attributed to TCD. (This is a defect of the THE ranking.) Similarly, student numbers do not vary widely from year to year, as most students hang around for a number of years.

Reputation is different. It should not be, but it is. It is based on a survey, filled out by busy people, with questions like “name the 10 best universities in your field”. Answers are affected by the overall quality of “brand Ireland”, and by rumours of cuts and exodoi.

The damage to “brand Ireland” is mostly due to objective events, particularly the spectacular economic mess we got ourselves into.

Yes. Many metrics are not corrected for scale, so larger universities do better. Merge UCD and TCD and they’re back in the top 100.

UPDATE: I take that back. The QS and ARWU rankings are not corrected for scale. The THE rankings are. A merged T+UCD would be ranked in between TCD and UCD.

In my area, we have lost several colleagues who have not been replaced. This has had a direct impact on the quality of the learning experience for the students, as we are obliged to breach our previous per-tutorial ceilings (that had been in place for decades) by a significant amount. We also have, on average, to teach an extra two hours per week. This has had an impact on our research as well, as it has become very difficult to conduct any serious research during term.

At present, those academics who are able to leave my university (UCD) are leaving. The combination of pay cuts, extra workloads, top-heavy bureaucratic meddling and the shifting of resources from academics to administration, not to mention the constant drumbeat of anti-public-sector propaganda have made it an unattractive place to continue one’s career.

@Richard Tol
“There is probably a spillover from bad news about Ireland in general to Irish universities specifically.”

And yet I can’t remember any Irish academics attributing our rise in the rankings to all the Celtic Tiger hype. Whatever happened to parsimony? Maybe we’ve fallen in the rankings because we’ve become relatively worse on the core business – teaching, research etc?

Note that Richard muses from the perspective of the reputation, whereas John the troll directly attributes. That’s the difference between a researcher and a [NOT VERY NICE DESCRIPTION]

These rankings respond with a lag to the actual situation in the universities. Things have deteriorated, and some departments may implode, but we’ll see that in future rankings.

@ Ernie:

I reckon that there a few indians (I shall refrain from calling them braves) on your reservation, maybe even share the same teepee as yourself, who would de-construct that ratings survey – in quick time! First thing that they might be looking for would be – validity! Yep?

Now: their reactions might be (choose one of the following)

A. 🙂

B: 😉

C: 😆

Brian Snr.

ps: Your last para is par-for-course with admins of large, fossilizing structures.



Richard muses from the perspective of the reputation.

JTO again:

Richard says clearly: “Reputation is 33% of the total rank.”

That’s more than just musing. Its assertion. And he makes it clear that the
‘reputation’ he is referring to is Ireland’s reputation. If his assertion is correct, and it is quite a plausible assertion, then, to the extent that Ireland’s reputation has been damaged by claims that turn out to be false (e.g. the 70k net emigration claim), and this in turn impacts on the academics’ rankings, that is something they should be concerned about.

On a brighter note, ‘reputation’ is a very fickle thing. It changes very fast. The best graphical representation of Ireland’s reputation is probably obtained by taking the inverse of the graph of Ireland’s bond interest rates. See here:

So, on this basis, Ireland’s reputation is on the way up again, and if it is true that “reputation is 33% of the total rank”, then this is a positive factor for the future rankings of Irish academics’ performance.

“And he makes it clear that the ‘reputation’ he is referring to is Ireland’s reputation.”

You are conflating the reputation of the country (whatever that is) and the peer-reviewed reputation of the universities (which is measured along clearly defined dimensions and contributes 33% of the total score for each university).

@Johnny Foreigner.

It is Richard Tol, and not me, who has introduced to this thread the concept that the rankings of Ireland’s universities and academics have been influenced by Ireland’s reputation in general.

Firsrt he says:

“As with the QS rankings, reputation plays a big role. There is probably a spillover from bad news about Ireland in general to Irish universities specifically.”

Later he says:

“Reputation is 33% of the total rank. Reputation is different. It should not be, but it is. It is based on a survey, filled out by busy people, with questions like “name the 10 best universities in your field”. Answers are affected by the overall quality of “brand Ireland”.

I have no idea if these statements by Richard Tol are true or not. In my business, we don’t go in for ranking each other, but measure success by how much we sell in the market place. But, they seem very plausible. And if they are true, then it follows that these academics’ rankings have been unfairly affected by claims affecting Ireland’s economic reputation that turned out to be totally false (e.g. the supposed 70k net emigration claim).

So 33% of these academic ratings are based on heresay

Doesn’t seem very scientific but at least it’s easily resolved with a bit of PR. Must be loads of them at a loose end at the moment.

Do you REALLY think that thousands of academics round the world hang on the every word of irish economists commentating on irish issues, and then make their decisions based on their impressions thereof? I imagine that the people named (and, pray tell, why them and not others) would be delighted to think so…

I am always shocked by these rankings, as they bear no relation to the quality of the institutions when they compare institutions from different countries. In particular it is laughable how high Oxford and Cambridge are ranked, compared to their American counterparts.

The main issue here is that these rankings are based on survey data, and that in England there are two well known universities, as opposed to the US where there are many more, and a host of regional universities that will be the first to mind for a person from that region.

The second factor is that the secondary measurements are laughable. I see Stanford (63.8) is ranked well below Imperial College London (93.1) on Industry Income. This is supposed to be a measure of “Innovation”. Anyone at all familiar with these institutions would know that this is silly. The weight given to international outlook is also heavily biased against the US (should states be treated as countries for this analysis) and for non-English speaking countries, as cross-lingual publications are rarer.

A pure citation index might be fairer, which would put Trinity above UBC and UT Austin, which I think flatters Trinity.

Every university president wants to run what Trinity’s Prendergast calls a ‘world-class university which plays for Ireland on the world stage.’

We would certainly be rich if we could monetise this type of aspiration.

Every sector wants more resources and prospects of closer links with the private sector are hyped but but even the University of California system gets little direct return from technology research.

This from a PR today – – and costs of course, wooly to say the least:

A meeting of the Chambers of the South East Region took place last evening (Wednesday, October 5) in Waterford to discuss the issue of a University for the South East region.

Announcing that universal agreement had been reached amongst the Chambers to collaborate on seeking a University for the South East the group of Chambers will be seeking to meet as a group with political representatives in Dail Eireann to press the case for a university of the South East.

As far back as 2005 Goodbody Economic Consultants identified that a University would bring in excess of €96m annually into the economy of the South East which is surely one of the strongest arguments for University designation for the region. 

Agree with early commentator. How these rankings are commented on in the Irish Times without taking NI universities into account lead to crazy talk. If UCD and Trinity etc are falling way behing QUB and UU, I am willing to talk about extra tax for same. If southern universities are (STILL) ranked way ahead of northern universities, I am unwilling to talk doomsday.

Also, wild guess, are more and more non english-speaking country universities submitting to be examined in these studies, and is it inevitable that thus Irish universities will fall in ranking, but not say nin the top 10% of univerisities in the world.

Irelands Universities have got to take loss of reputation on the chin. They stood by while one of the greatest injustices was done to the Irish economy, directly affecting their students and graduates. This injustice was firstly the obviuos real-estate bubble and policies leading to this. Secondly the garantee and bailing out of banks. Where were the university presidents? Leading academics, where did they stand on thse issues and more importantly what did they do about it? Some individuals such as M.Kelly or C.Gurgendiev have been quite public with their correct analysis, @JTO reputation would be lower if it wasn’t for them.
Many professors have proven mistaken anaylsis and others who claim to have the correct analysis failed to communicate the message publicly – ask Bertie or Brian Cowen.
In fairness some University professors did write a letter to the Government about NAMA overpaying for bad loans. However the government nationalising the banks made that kind of irrelevant in the end. Initiatives like this website are positive, only people with a certain level of education would go on here though.
One of the measurements of any ratings scheme is prospects for graduates and with unemployment at 14% in Ireland, graduates from Irish universities do not have much choices.


“but I doubt they can explain much of the current rankings, as the objective measures (publications, citations) reflect the past rather than the present”

Excellent point!

Of course, IMHO, if we re-allocated some of the unacceptably high level of senior academic salaries (which are in very little danger of falling out of the top 100) elsewhere into actual university, and professional/life long education we might find our University rankings risng.

About 12 years ago I listened to a senior Medical Doctor on the radio insisting 8-10% of GDP should be spent on health in Ireland in order to match Scandinavian levels of public health.

When we did reach that percentage (and are still spending that percentage) of health spending we soon discovered that our health service still had unacceptable shortcomings but our consultants and many other public health officials are among the highest paid in the world.

Even a G.P. card will not become universally avilable until 2016 while the medical card has been postponed until after the next general election. In the middle of all this we have thousands of long term unemployed (“life style choice”?) who are afraid to take up employment because they risk losing health benefits and we have to “import” hospital doctors .

I also feel JTO makes an excellent point when he refers to the “rubbish” specific academics have been “spouting” about Ireland.

IMHO those academics and their colleagues should take careful note that some of that “rubbish” is actually indirectly making itś way into academic publications/research papers emerging throughout Europe. which has much more serious consequences than when it makes brief appearances within the fast moving “24/7” media

I find it interesting that Karl has remained silent on this thread. Perhaps he is trying to figure out how he can pay his car lease this month. 🙂


About 12 years ago I listened to a senior Medical Doctor on the radio insisting 8-10% of GDP should be spent on health in Ireland in order to match Scandinavian levels of public health.

JTO again.

The idea that Ireland needs to spend the same percentage of GDP on health as in other continental EU countries was always mad. It should have been nailed at source when people started demanding it a decade or so ago.

The fact is quite simply: Ireland has by far the youngest population in the EU. Its proportion of population aged 65 plus is barely half that in other EU countries (11% v approx 20%). Does the age-group 20-30 require the same spending on healthcare as the age-group 65 plus? Would that it were true (as I am not far off that age-group), but it simply isn’t.

While the numbers are out of date, it appears per capital on a PPP basis we spend as much as the Scandanavian countries on health:

So, since 2006 has Health spending increase or decreased? Have health insurance costs increased or decreased? Has PPP moved in our favour or against us? If the GDP number was rebased to GNP, how would it look?

My guess is that on an absolute basis we spend more of our GNP on health than other countries. This suggests to me that the amount being spent is not the problem.


Re Health spending (my apologies to Richard who has written an excellent post)

An important point to note is that the Minister of Health ,when spending on that sector started to accelerate, is now leader of a very diminished opposition. Which means that the policy debate has to originate within the coalition with occasional input from Sinn Fein and assorted independents.

Of course this excellent forum and opinion writers in (all) the main media outlets can also contribute as can ordinary voters when they engage with their public representatives. When the remaining members of Fianna Fail re-examine why they actually entered politics in the first place I am sure many of them will also be able to contribute.

In fairness to Mr Martin, who was Minister of Health at the time, the philosophy behind providing the over 70`s medical card was admirable but it probably would have been helpful if he ( and his legion of well paid advisers) took out a calculator when allocating per capita payments for the over 70´s.

Indeed if Mr Martin had used a calculator at the time we may well have had decent basic medical cover for every one aged over the “moment of conception.”:)

People in Europe are astonished that most Irish people have to pay to visit the GP and then sit around (sometimes for an hour) in the waiting room or that Irish people have to pay for “follow up” visits to consultants dealing with the same reasons for thier referral.

When Europeans are then informed that many Irish people also pay private medical insurance (which only partially reimburses those visits) many of them cease to believe the information is credible or that the “fees” are really legitimate payments instead of “backhanders”.

It is important to note that many of the rioters in Greece cite corruption (i.e the need to provide backhanders/bribery to medical professionals) in health sector as a good reason to turn up on the streets.

Fortunately as we all know the amount of public money Ireland is spending (relative to GDP/GNP) is significant and the proplem is not actually the AMOUNT we are spending but HOW we are spending it IMHO both leftwing and rightwing politics can find common ground without compromising their principles or risk losing their constituency votes.

After all now that Mr Kenny (who was born when Stalin was still alive) has “had a go” at the Vatican, without compromisng his personal religious beliefs, he may well be ready to discuss “how many votes does the medical profession have”?:)

A healthy workforce can be more innovative and productive while healthy students/researchers would also contribute towards educational attainment with a consequent “ranking” dividend. (In fairness to Richard I felt obliged to bring the thread back on topic).

The medical profession is far more influential than the bald numbers would suggest. Politicians are extremely reluctant to get into nose to nose confrontations with doctors and nurses and that is for good reasons.

At one time the Education budgets were sacrosanct but in countries (and there are many) where health care is funded by Government the Education budget is lucky to increase at the ROI while the Health Care budget increases routinely exceed the ROI.

Comments are closed.