Tuesday 17 September 2019

Katherine Donnelly: 'University rankings may not be perfect, but they do matter in globalised world'

'There is also no denying the relatively low levels of investment in Irish education' (stock photo)
'There is also no denying the relatively low levels of investment in Irish education' (stock photo)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Global university rankings matter. Real or not, perceptions matter.

In a globalised world, they matter when it comes to competing for research funding from multinational corporations, or other sources that want to believe they are investing in the best talent and infrastructure to optimise the outcomes.

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Irish graduates have also found they matter to prospective employers, in the US and elsewhere around the world, who may not go beyond the world's top 50, 100 or 200 when it comes to recruiting staff. They may also matter to international students - on which Irish universities are increasingly relying as an income stream - when it comes to deciding where to pursue their third-level studies. The same goes for mobile researchers.

Another set of rankings to which attention is paid, QS, uses different metrics and had Trinity and UCD in more favourable placings this year than this week's 'Times Higher', but there has been slippage there too over the years.

Detractors, as well as healthy sceptics, criticise the methodology used in rankings, which do not, for instance, measure the quality of teaching. But, however flawed they may be, what university head or politician would pass up on an opportunity to boast about a top-50 placing.

Whatever the shortcomings, of rankings, and arguments about what they do and don't measure, there is a clear link between investment and a university's positioning, the latter bringing its own rewards.

There is also no denying the relatively low levels of investment in Irish education, highlighted again this week in the OECD's 'Education at a Glance' report, comparing systems in more than 30 countries in the developed world.

In 2016, spending on third-level education in Ireland, as a proportion of national wealth, was 0.8pc, second lowest, and compared with an OECD average of 1.5pc and an EU average of 1.2pc. Higher education is one area where Ireland is seen to have the potential to make gains if the UK does indeed exit the EU - including by making claims on research funding that might otherwise go to UK universities.

But if State support for researchers in Ireland is already having an impact on the sector's ability to leverage bigger EU research funding, how can Ireland hope to capitalise on new opportunities?

Irish Independent

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