Thursday 22 August 2019

Cash crisis: Irish universities fall further down the world rankings list

Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Dublin
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

There is now no Irish university in the world's top 100 as the country's higher education sector falls further in global rankings.

Trinity College Dublin has dropped from 88th to 104th, while the country's largest university, UCD, is down 25 places to 193rd, perilously close to being edged out of the top 200.

Five of the seven universities, as well as Dublin Institute of Technology, have plummeted in the QS World University Rankings 2019. The University of Limerick and Maynooth University have held their own.

It has sparked a new round of warnings about how a lack of funding is damaging Ireland's universities and the country's reputation.

As other countries spend increasing amounts on higher education, austerity-era cuts in funding as well as staffing controls in universities, which have not been reversed, are blamed for Ireland's decline.

The choice for the Government is a significant increase in State funding or higher student fees, linked to a loan system.

But there is no appetite for either and, despite the Cassells Report detailing how higher education needs €600m a year extra, the issue is off the table for the lifetime of the present Government.

UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks said while the Government "perseveres with austerity level funding", countries such as China were investing billions.

One key measure in such rankings is the student-teacher ratio and Mr Deeks said the best universities in China had reduced that to 10-1. The comparable figure in Ireland is 20-1, down from 15-1 in 2009.

Prof Deeks pointed out that, in 2008, UCD was 86th in the world in QS in terms of student-teacher ratio, but now it was 536th, down 70 on last year alone.

He said the continuing deterioration in this ratio "can no longer be endured" and said a range of options to tackle this issue was being brought before the next meeting of the UCD Governing Authority.

Last year, Prof Deeks warned of a possible cap on student numbers as a measure to improve the ratio, but it is understood that may not form part of the package now being considered.

Irish Universities Association (IUA) director general Jim Miley said it was "time to stop delaying a decision on a proper funding model for Irish third-level education".

While there was some comfort for Trinity in being ranked Ireland's leading university, its dean of research, Prof Linda Doyle, said: "Irish universities are sliding because we can't compete on funding."

She said a decrease in the ranking for any university was not good for an economy that was heavily dependent on foreign direct investment and on the employment of highly educated staff.

Education Minister Richard Bruton ignored the downward trend and said the rankings "reflected a strong performance overall by Ireland".

He said that such rankings did not consider the quality of teaching or learning, or measure how universities tackled educational disadvantage or supported students with special educational needs.

Irish Independent

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