University rankings, 2014

Always a controversial topic, the latest university rankings by QS have been published. More details here. The aim is to identify the top 200, meaning something of an abrupt stop once they get to 200. (I feel the need to put a disclaimer here that I post this not because I stand over the ranking’s exact methodology, but rather rankings such as these are used by both prospective students and policymakers, hence they are important.)

Of interest to this readership, the ranking of Economics Departments in Europe is here. Trinity features in the 51-100 cohort and UCD in the 100-150. (Digression: nice to see a popular ranking recognise the bounds of uncertainty, although this may not be the best way to do it.) Six of the top seven Economics departments in Europe are British, with one each from Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and France also in the top dozen.

9th-level Ireland has a handy table of Ireland’s top ranking departments across all disciplines from 2011 to 2014. Four departments (all in TCD) are in the top 50 in their discipline. A further 18 are in the 51-100 group (including three law departments).

Dublin is the 8th best place in the world for students

at least, according to the latest ranking by QS.

They’re quiet about the method, but if you click on any of the cities, you will find what matters to them: Good universities, international mix, local employment, cost of living and fees, and quality of living.

As far as I know, this is the first such ranking so it is too early to tell whether Dublin’s high rank will increase the influx of foreign students.

Tilburg ranking of economic departments, and Economist on MBAs

Another day, another ranking, this time of Economics departments by Tilburg University.

The global ranking has Vrije U in 77th position. You’ll need to use the “ranking sandbox” to discover that UCD is 157, TCD 233, NUIM 503, and NUIG 696. DCU, DIT, UCC and UL are not ranked.

This ranking’s method is simple. Papers are attributed to the department at the time of publication, rather than to the current department of the author. Quality weighing is simple too: publications are given a weight 1 if in a listed journal, and 0 otherwise. The list has 36 journals (although another 32 can be added in the sandbox). The list contains all of the obvious journals, and omits quite a few journals that are equally respectable — and why use a subjective criterion for respectability anyway when objective quality measures are readily available?

The Tilburg ranking thus compares badly to the IDEAS/RePEc one, but the results are not that different: Vrije U is 76, UCD 198 (Geary) or 225 (Econ dept), ESRI 252. Other Irish departments do not make it to the top 5%.

Both rank the total output of the department, not correcting for the number of faculty. Large schools are thus on top.


The new MBA ranking by the Economist is out too. UCD ranks 38th, and is the only Irish entry. The method is a lot more sensible than the Tilburg one.

Pay for performance in academia

Last week, I linked to two papers, one showing that students prefer to enroll in highly ranked universities, and another one showing that a generalization of the Hirsch index partly explains who gets tenure where.

Brian Lucey led me to another paper, by Daniel Hamermesh, to be published in Economic Inquiry. Hamermesh links remuneration to performance, showing that more prolific authors earn more (but this effect levels off). The relation between citations and pay is more intriguing. At the lower end of the pay range, the total number of citations matters. At the higher end, the most cited paper dominates. This makes sense: Prizes are given for the one paper that changed everything.

What has this to do with Ireland? In the USA, academic contracts are individual. In Ireland, contracts are collective. Pay is set by grade and seniority. This implies that only the more productive and more influential Irish academics can get a competitive offer from the USA. Recent cuts in net pay have priced a larger fraction of Irish people into the international market. Irish universities thus run the risk of losing their best people, and we have seen some of that already.

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

Do college rankings matter for student choice?

A guest post by Kevin Denny

The recent publication of the QS world rankings generated a lot of interest as well as criticism from various people, including me. A common response to such criticisms is to say “Like it or not, they matter to people so we need to pay attention to them”.  But do they matter?

This paper looks at how the publication of US college rankings influences the demand for places but only when colleges are not listed alphabetically.

Salience in Quality Disclosure: Evidence from the U.S. News College Rankings

M. Luca & J. Smith

How do rankings affect demand? This paper investigates the impact of college rankings, and the visibility of those rankings, on students’ application decisions. Using natural experiments from U.S. News and World Report College Rankings, we present two main findings. First, we identify a causal impact of rankings on application decisions. When explicit rankings of colleges are published in U.S. News, a one-rank improvement leads to a 1-percentage-point increase in the number of applications to that college. Second, we show that the response to the information represented in rankings depends on the way in which that information is presented. Rankings have no effect on application decisions when colleges are listed alphabetically, even when readers are provided data on college quality and the methodology used to calculate rankings. This finding provides evidence that the salience of information is a central determinant of a firm’s demand function, even for purchases as large as college attendance.

[NOTE: The “rankings” tag leads to previous posts on this topic.]

UPDATE: Glenn Ellison has a cool paper that’s related:


A large literature following Hirsch (2005) has proposed citation-based indexes that could be used to rank academics. This paper examines how well several such indexes match labor market outcomes using data on the citation records of young tenured economists at 25 U.S. departments. Variants of Hirsch’s index that emphasize smaller numbers of highly-cited papers perform better than Hirsch’s original index and have substantial power to explain which economists are tenured at which departments. Adjustment factors for differences across fields and years of experience are presented.

Dublin in the Cycle Top 10

Good news is always welcome. Dublin is the 2nd most Intelligent Community. Who cares it’s Dublin, Ohio? There is a chuckle in the capital, an opportunity to bitch, and as not too many people know about the other Dublin, its reputation adds to ours.

Dublin (Ireland) is ranked 9th (out of 80) on the list of most Bicycle-Friendly Cities in the world. The Lord Mayor rightly called this astonishing. I agree. Any town (that I’ve visited) in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands is more friendly to cyclists, including Hamburg (ranked 13th).

The list was put together by Copenhagenize. They do not reveal their methods. Dublin got 12 bonus points for trying, without which it would not have been in the top 20. Dublin’s high ranking is explained by “a wildly successful bike share programme” (true), “visionary politicians” (since booted out of office) “who implemented bike lanes and 30 km/h zones” (although the 30 km/h zone is fiendishly hard to navigate by bike), and “a citizenry who have merely shrugged and gotten on with it” (although the few available statistics suggest that people cycle less and less).

Copenhagenize claims that “[t]he new cycle track along the [Grand] [C]anal is brilliant”. It sure looks shiny and new. It has a small ridge between the road and the cycle line, the sort that was abandoned elsewhere because if you’d hit it accidentally, you’d go head first into traffic. Right of way is confusing. I use one crossing of the new cycle lane on my way back from work. In the few months since it was opened, I’ve spend some 10 minutes there and witnessed four near misses as cars turn on bikes. Fortunately, Dublin bikes are equipped with above-average brakes.

Copenhagenize has used the old let’s-rank-something trick to generate publicity. Unfortunately, they did not add to our understanding of what makes a city friendly to cycling.

Ireland’s economists in the world (part 2)

I’m getting better at scraping the web and I’ve now been able to calculate some things that IDEAS/RePEc does not.

This graph has the number of economists in Ireland registered at IDEAS/RePEc. It is not a natural number to account for joint appointments. The number has been rising steadily over time. I expect that trend to reverse in the coming months.

This graph shows Ireland’s position in the total population of economists. We’re a small country. I highlight Massachusetts because it is ranked highest by IDEAS/RePEc.

This graph shows the number of unique publications per person. In recent times, Ireland has done reasonably well in terms of productivity.

However, visibility cq interest is less impressive, as shown in this graph. It should be noted, though, that “abstract views” is the metric that can be most easily manipulated. That said, Ireland does not do so well either on the number of citations per publication, as shown in this graph, or on the number of citing authors per person, as shown in this graph.

As always, these results can be interpreted in a number of ways. In order to improve Ireland’s standing at IDEAS/RePEc, we’ll need to convince more people that our papers are worth citing.

The great thing about the Public Data Explorer is that you can make your own graphs. You need to go back two positions to return to this blog.

I used these Matlab scripts to scrape the web.

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.

Ireland’s economists in the world

I’ve taught myself the black art of web-scraping.

There are many rankings of economists and economics departments. IDEAS/RePEc uses a reasonable method and is kept up to date. It also provides rankings by and of countries. Ireland is now ranked 33rd in the world. Ireland’s economists are thus about as good as its soccer players (ranked 31st).

It wasn’t always thus. IDEAS/RePEc has published country rankings since 2005. Ireland’s position has steadily improved over time, as can be seen from this graph. As a number of economists are planning to emigrate, that trend may reverse.

Ranking of Irish Universities (and Economics Departments)

Rankings are funny things. Economists love them. There are rankings by department, by citation, and by subdiscipline. My favourite one is the top dead economist. You’d think it would be Adam Smith, but no.

Some people even rank their rankings.

There are even rankings of business schools, academics, and celebrity economists in Ireland, thanks to Richard Tol and colleagues. The rankings aren’t without controversy. In particular, some see ranking as academic bureaucracy and nothing more, others (like frequent IrishEconomy poster Ernie Ball) point to the perverse incentives such rankings produce in academic life, as well as other serious issues. Ferdinand Von Prondzynski summarises the arguments well here. Here is another particularly harsh assessment of these rankings.

Today’s university rankings show two Irish universities and economics departments in a particularly good light. TCD and UCD come out really well in several areas. Other universities, including mine, don’t feature as prominently at all. Brian Lucey has done the spade work on his blog going through the report, and I reproduce his summary below the fold. Some remarkable findings in there–TCD mathematics is 15th in the world, TCD psychology is top 50, for example–as well as the news that UCD and TCD economics departments are both in the top 50 100 (ht Enda H). Well done to them.

I’m particularly interested in commenters’ reactions to this latest report, and what it might mean for universities in Ireland that a. don’t make the cut in terms of rankings, and b. those that do. Rather than rehashing the tired “rankings-good/rankings-bad” argument, let’s focus, if we can, on what these rankings imply for the funding each university receives by subject area, in the light of the Hunt Report and it’s eventual implementation.  Should resources flow disproportionately to the ‘winners’–TCD and UCD–or alternatively to other universities to bring up capacity? Should all universities do everything, or should there be partitions by subject area? Should UCD’s mathematics department, to pick an example at random, give up and go home, given than TCD’s is so obviously world class? Take a look at the summary below to begin.
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