Trinity drop in world list sparks row over funding
A new controversy is erupting over State funding for university researchers after Trinity College Dublin (TCD) dropped 44 places in the latest annual global rankings.
In a further blow to the nation's higher education reputation, the only Irish entry in the world's top 200 tumbled from 120th to 164th in the UK-based 'Times' Higher Education table.
It sparked a call on Government from TCD for a national strategy on rankings to reverse the ongoing slide in the nation's standing.
Trinity says the decline is part of a pattern that followed the financial crisis when funding per student was cut.
It is 43pc lower now than in 2010, which has a direct link to staff/student ratios, one of the measures used in the rankings. But Trinity and the Irish Universities Association (IUA) also blame a lack of State funding for individual researchers as a key factor in the worsening position.
Overall, research accounts for up to 60pc of the total rankings score.
Trinity dean of research Professor Linda Doyle said the university's slide came despite good performances across many categories, but "this is not good enough in a world that sees many of our global competitors improve their scores through focused and sustained investment by their governments".
On the research issue, she said talented individuals were not being nurtured at national level through regular, highly competitive grant awards which in turn set them up for winning research grants at international level.
Prof Doyle said in the recent round of the 'crème de la crème' European Research Council grant awards, Ireland got only one of 408.
She said while the Irish Research Council recognised the need for such investigator-led research grants through its Laureate Awards, it has only had one round and no budget to run it annually.
A Science Foundation Ireland programme for funding individuals ran in 2016 and 2017, but a significantly reduced programme, replacing both, was running this year, she said.
IUA director general Jim Miley said: "The positions of Irish universities on the international ranking system, for all its imperfections, reflects the material reduction in government funding over a decade for core student tuition, for capital investment and for investigator-led research."
University College Dublin fell out of the top 200 three years ago and remains in the 201-250 band, along with the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.
Other placings are: NUI Galway (251-300), Maynooth University and University College Cork (301-350), University of Limerick (501-600), Dublin City University (601-800), TU Dublin (801-1000).
Oxford University is top overall, followed by the California Institute of Technology.