IRELAND'S most famous university has suffered a blow after it slid further down the world's most prestigious league table.
Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has slumped from 110th to 129th – and is down from 76th three years ago – in the highly-regarded UK-based Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2013-14.
The slide prompted UCD president Dr Hugh Brady to call for universities to have greater control over their own affairs.
He said the country's seven universities could not compete with the rest of the world with "two hands tied behind their back" – with state funding falling while the Government still controls how all their income is spent.
No Irish university is in the top 100.
Trinity slipped down the table despite improving its scores under a number of headings. Rankings editor Phil Baty described its slide as "a cause for alarm – when the national flagship falls, it can affect the standing of the rest of the country".
The university's Dean of Research, Professor Vinny Cahill, said it was a "wake-up call" and the Government needed to invest more in Trinity and higher education generally
On a positive note, Dr Brady's University College Dublin has jumped from 187th to 161st place in the table.
The table reflects a continuing power shift in global higher education, with the US and Europe losing ground to Asian nations pouring money into research and innovation.
Although the top-placed Asian institution, the University of Tokyo, is ranked 23rd, Mr Baty said "more Asian institutions are nipping at the heels of the best in the West, increasingly occupying world top 50 places".
Economic constraints are hurting the West, particularly Ireland, where state funding to third-level has dropped 14pc in real terms in a decade.
One notable area of concern within universities is the Employment Control Framework, which has reduced and imposed strict limits on the numbers employed in the sector, at a time when enrolments are rising.
Calling for universities to be allowed greater control over their affairs, Dr Brady said it was time "for all concerned to appreciate that the State was fast becoming a minority funder". The State accounts for only about half of UCD's income – in 2011-12, non-Exchequer income at UCD had risen to about 47pc.
"UCD simply cannot compete with both hands tied behind its back as is currently the case."
Meanwhile, Professor Cahill said the rankings "should be a wake-up call for Ireland's higher education sector where more sustained investment is needed to drive societal and economic renewal".
He said as the Government framed this month's Budget, it was "critical that investment in higher education is increased, given its importance for job creation, particularly in innovation".
UCC president Dr Michael Murphy said: "The rankings give the clear message that Irish universities are performing very creditably in the face of very difficult austerity challenges.
But he added: "If Ireland is ever again to feature in the top 20, or even the top 50, we will have to take bold decisions on a new funding model."
Global university rankings can influence decisions about where companies invest in research and jobs, and where international students choose as a destination for study.
The rankings, which are the most comprehensive and prestigious, use 13 separate performance indicators to examine a university's strengths in teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.