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