Oops! Data error sees red-faced Trinity slump in global rankings
Ireland has suffered another alarming fall in a global league table of universities.
The country's largest university, UCD, has dropped out of the top 200 in the prestigious UK-based Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.
Meanwhile, the position of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is completely unknown after red-faced college officials admitted that the college had sent incorrect information to the ratings experts.
Trinity is traditionally ranked as Ireland's leading university, but speculation in recent days suggested that a catastrophic fall was putting it outside the top 200, and below UCD.
Trinity underestimated the level of research funding it receives and submitted incorrect information to the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings experts.
That is now being blamed for the college's apparent dramatic fall in the THE ratings, for both this year and last year.
The damaging data put TCD at risk of being listed outside the world's top 200 universities this year - a huge slide from 138th place in 2014. Last year it was 160th.
But as news of its potential placing on the 2016 list filtered through in recent days, appalled college authorities looked for answers.
The college has now sent revised information about how much it brought in on research for both years - and believes it will have a positive impact on its position on the table, both this year and last.
The UCD slide from 176th last year to somewhere between 201-250th this year is a second blow for Ireland in as many weeks.
Our universities already posted a poor showing in the QS World University Rankings - sparking a new round of warnings about underfunding of third level.
After eight years of cuts, the seven universities are receiving €1,838 less per student than they did in 2007/08, as a result of a 50pc cut in State grants, and rising student numbers.
The rankings editor Phil Baty described the 2016 rankings as "bad news for Ireland; the country's best universities are struggling".
He said while the root of the problem was the increased competition among the world's elite universities, particularly those in Asia, "it seems clear that the major funding cuts endured by Ireland's universities are causing problems".
On the positive side, he noted that both NUI Galway and The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland - both of which join UCD in the 201-250 band - have made gains in the table.
But Mr Baty warned that "most global attention will be focussed on Ireland's two flagship institutions - the global magnets for talent - and a strong message should go out that these institutions should be protected as national assets.
"Ireland is one of the lowest investors in higher education among all OECD countries and you simply cannot sustain world-class universities on the cheap."
Within the 201-250 band, UCD came 205th, 220th and NUI Galway 243rd.
UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks said the university has consistently performed in areas under its control, "and these rankings show that we have maintained strong output against a backdrop of falling State investment".
Maynooth University president Professor Philip Nolan said Irish universities were "in general, falling rapidly in world rankings as the impact of a decade of austerity and underfunding shows in our worsening staff: student ratio and a greatly reduced capacity to conduct world-class research".
He said it was generally accepted the Irish university system was in crisis, but "despite the excellent analysis and proposals presented in the recent Cassells report (on funding third level), we are too slow to act. This inaction threatens the future of our university system. The Irish university system is world class, but it won't be for long". Meanwhile, Dublin City University (DCU) was ranked between 401-450th in the table.
However it has risen two places, to 44th position, in a separate QS ranking of the world's best young universities.